Editorials from around Ohio
Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Ohio newspapers:
Statewide bail reform needs the imprimatur of the Ohio Supreme Court
Cleveland Plain Dealer
The seven justices of the Ohio Supreme Court have yet to act on nine powerful bail-reform recommendations from a high-level task force the high court established earlier this year.
They should do so soon.
Without the high court’s imprimatur, important reforms needed to end unjust bail practices throughout Ohio that keep poor defendants in jail unnecessarily -- reforms both in Ohio judicial rules and in state law -- will languish.
As just one example, the current two-year Ohio budget that passed earlier this year included no money to help some parts of Ohio, including smaller, rural counties, pay for improved pretrial services and risk-assessment tools. The tools help gauge whether a criminal suspect can be safely released from jail using supervised release as an alternative to onerous and unmerited cash bail. Validated risk-assessment tools help measure the risk of letting a suspect go free pending trial.
As the 30-member task force found in its report last month to the Ohio Supreme Court, “Roughly 57 percent of inmates in Ohio jails are not there serving a sentence, but instead are awaiting trial .... They are locked up because they cannot afford bail.”
The task force, headed by Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge Mary Katherine Huffman, also found that the upfront costs of more pretrial services could be offset by other savings.
“Research shows that jail in Ohio is far more expensive than supervised release,” the task force, which also included Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Administrative Judge John J. Russo and Rocky River Municipal Judge Brian Hagan, found. “The average jail bed (costs) almost $65 per day, compared to $5 per day for maximum supervised release.”
Simple justice also demands bail reform, as highlighted by cleveland.com’s “Justice For All” series.
Too many in Ohio without the means to pay hundreds of dollars cash bail face unwarranted stays in jail before the charges against them are even adjudicated -- jail time that can cost them jobs and their futures.
That blows back, too, in terms of increased recidivism and harm to their children, the task force found.
“Studies have shown that as few as three days in jail can make those who are detained more likely to offend in the future - likely because detention disrupts stabilizing factors such as employment, housing, health, and education,” the task force found. “More than one in 10 Ohio children - over a quarter million kids - has experienced the absence of a parent due to incarceration in jail or prison.”
Unnecessary incarceration also costs taxpayers in jail crowding that ripples out into other negative impacts on jail safety -- as has happened in Cuyahoga County.
Many of the task force’s recommendations can be implemented by the Ohio Supreme Court itself via new rules; one such recommendation would require unified bond schedules for counties like Cuyahoga with more than one court system.
But the key recommendation -- requiring the use of validated risk-assessment tools before setting bond - will take legislation. A bipartisan effort to pass such a bill in the last General Assembly faltered under the onslaught of lobbying from the bail-bond industry. House Bill 439 never got out of committee and died at the end of last year with the end of the 132nd General Assembly. Similar legislation has not been reintroduced.
To succeed, such legislation needs the high court’s imprimatur to pass.
In its fiscal analysis of HB 439, the nonpartisan Legislative Service Commission acknowledged that the additional court costs “related to data collection, setting bail using a validated risk assessment tool, and additional hearing requirements” likely would be “substantial” and “include the need to hire additional staff.”
But it also pointed to taxpayer savings from not having to pay for needlessly incarcerated suspects. In 2016, according to the LSC, the statewide annual cost of all county jail incarceration was $266 million.
A 2017 study of the Cuyahoga County jail found that more than one-quarter of those held on a relatively low bond -- in which cash bail would typically be $500 or less -- never posted bond at all. That’s wrong -- and it underscores how important bail reform is.
The Supreme Court should quickly embrace the task force’s nine recommendations and start the process of statewide bail reform.
Facial recognition is “not ready for prime time”
The Lima News
Facial recognition technology, which is in the very early stages of development, is too undependable and prone to inaccuracy to deploy as a law enforcement tool.
That’s why Ohio Attorney General David Yost did the right thing last week in pressing the “pause button” on its potential use by more than 4,500 Ohio law enforcement officers.
Yost’s decision came after The Washington Post reported that federal law enforcement officials have mined Bureau of Motor Vehicle photo databases nationwide — without the approval of Congress or state legislatures and without the knowledge or consent of millions of drivers with no criminal records.
Also, if there was any belief about facial recognition being ready for prime time, it was erased by a software test conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union. That test saw the mug shots of two dozen members of the California Legislature being identified as matches for criminals, according to the Sacramento Bee.
Up until then, facial recognition technology was being heralded as an important crime-fighting tool. It presented officers with a first step in identifying a possible criminal suspect or wanted person. The officer could take a photograph of the suspect and feed it into a database, which would produce photos with similar parameters.
Yost emphasized Ohio has experienced no misuse of the state’s facial recognition system, but said the state will back off facial recognition testing until officers can be better trained on the use and limitations of the technology. This includes the fact that facial recognition technologies are more likely to wrongly identify people of color, women and young people.
The problems we are now experiencing with facial recognition serve as two reminders:
. While technology certainly has provided police with useful tools to keep communities safe, a society under constant technological surveillance can pose an unprecedented threat to our civil rights. No one wants to be stripped of their dignity by being handcuffed and detained when they’ve done nothing wrong. A case of mistaken identity also can turn into a dangerous situation when a police officer thinks they’re dealing with a wanted or dangerous criminal instead of an innocent citizen.
. If it were not for the media — in this case the Washington Post — we would have never known that not only is our data being used without our knowledge, but the results saw innocent people being investigated and accused of crimes.
Don’t mix politics with rates
The Toledo Blade
The Federal Reserve is responsible for independently setting the nation’s monetary policy and it should continue to do so despite President Trump’s urging last week to make a big cut in interest rates for what he believes will help the U.S. economy thrive.
The Fed’s Open Market Committee, which has 12 members, exists in part to set interest rates for banks to borrow money, which usually trickle down to consumer savings and loan rates. The panel raised rates four times last year, in an effort to keep inflation in check, as the economy picked up steam. Last month, it lowered the rate for the first time in more than a decade.
It sliced the rate by a 0.25 percentage point to a range of 2 to 2.25 percent, but Mr Trump now wants a full percentage point reduction, in part to deal with ramifications of his trade war with China. The President has set tariffs on many Chinese imports into the United States, and he has imposed more taxes on the imports to take effect on Dec. 15.
The last two rounds of such taxes first roiled the stock markets and then lifted the markets when some tariffs were delayed for three months. The trade war has many U.S. firms nervous about how much of an increase would occur in the price of consumer goods as a result. China responded by devaluing its currency, the yuan, which essentially reduces the price of its exported goods, making them cheaper in the United States.
The President contends that the Fed interest rate is slowing economic growth in this country, and that a drastic move is needed to jolt the economy into high gear.
Fed Chairman Jerome Powell, so far, has disagreed, calling for measured approaches. He maintains the Fed is trying to prevent high inflation and any prospect of a recession. When the Fed lowered interest rates repeatedly over the few years following the 2009 Great Recession, it typically did so at 0.25 percentage point at a time, ultimately dropping the rate to virtually zero.
Lowering the rate now, especially in a big way, could devalue the U.S. dollar, which would please the President in that it could counteract the Chinese actions to devalue its currency and could help U.S. companies sell their goods abroad. But such actions by the Fed have potentially dangerous side effects, such as slowing the global economy, and thus should be avoided if possible.
Mr. Powell, picked by Mr. Trump to lead the Fed, has been sharply criticized by the President. Some assert that the Fed lowered the rate at the end of July in response to Mr. Trump’s pressure. Some analysts think one or two more rate reductions could come this year, in response to the impact on the economy of the trade war with China.
The nation’s central bank should be proactive to economic indicators and react as needed, to try to keep the economy on an even keel, and not react to political requests by the nation’s leader.
A rule to scare and keep out legal immigrants
The Akron Beacon Journal
When the Trump White House first proposed changing the “public charge” rule concerning immigrants who want to stay or enter the country, the opposition was overwhelming. During the public comment period, such respected organizations as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the American Academy of Pediatrics urged the administration not to go forward. The opponents included business leaders, educators and public officials, from state and local levels, from both political parties.
Last Monday, the administration went ahead, anyway. The Department of Homeland Security announced revisions that will make it harder for legal immigrants who use government benefit programs to gain permanent legal status, or a green card. The result will be an altered flow of legal immigration, reducing the number of legal immigrants with lower incomes.
This is something that should concern Akron and other cities seeking to halt the decline of their populations and even see an increase. Immigrants can play a key role in adding residents. More, they help to counter the fallout from an aging population, strengthening the Social Security and Medicare trust funds by boosting the number of workers compared to retirees.
What does the administration propose?
The country has had a version of the public charge rule since the 1800s. The stated purpose has been to deny entry to those deemed unable to take care of themselves and thus likely to drain public resources. That is reasonable, and since 1999, it has worked better, defining public charge as receiving most of your cash income from the government.
Unfortunately, going back in time, the concept long has been abused, deployed to keep out “undesirables,” or in a racist manner. For its part, the administration has expanded the criteria and given officials wider leeway in weighing whether an immigrant is likely to become dependent. It has included such programs as Medicaid, food assistance and housing subsidies.
Ken Cuccinelli, the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, talks about granting legal status to those “who can stand on their own two feet.”
What the administration neglects is that most immigrants of modest means work, often in tough circumstances. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes in a report, released last week, they make up more than one-third of the workforce in some industries. Their mobility helps fill local worker shortages, and their children tend to be upwardly mobile.
The country benefits from their presence. In addition, just 1 in 5 taps public assistance, and when they do, it usually involves a short time. As legal residents, they are eligible.
A leading worry about the administration’s rule is the additional fear it will generate in immigrant communities, many in need choosing to forgo benefits, the quality of their lives harmed as a result. For instance, staying away from food assistance could mean that children fail to receive proper nutrition and thus do not perform to their capabilities in school. Another concern is that families could split, even entire families leaving the country, which is something the White House apparently favors.
Recall that this rule change isn’t about illegal immigration. It involves those living here legally or seeking to enter legally. It gives officials the discretion to project whether an applicant will become dependent on public assistance. Which way will the current administration lean? Applicants are set up to fail. Yet that isn’t their story as a rule.
The country needs to make constructive changes to its immigration system. This isn’t such a step. It is another dark, disappointing and cruel effort to intimidate. Most of all, it is ill-informed about immigration today and what is required to make improvements. No wonder the opposition was so large.