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Recent editorials published in Indiana newspapers

The Associated PressJanuary 15, 2019

The Munster Times. January 11, 2019

Porter county elections bill strikes right chords to fix debacle

Most in the Region are familiar with the debacle that was Porter County’s Election Day in November.

A bill filed this week in the Indiana Legislature appears to be the proper antidote for the illness of dysfunction, nepotism and absentee leadership that characterized what is supposed to be one of the most sacred institutions of American society.

The Indiana General Assembly should move swiftly to pass the plan, filed by state Reps. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, and Mike Aylesworth, R-Hebron.

Just two short months ago, all hell literally broke loose in the Porter County elections.

The list of what went wrong is a litany of incompetence, infighting and bad government, including:

118 to 122 early voters in Portage whose ballots were rendered unusable because election supervisors didn’t affix required bipartisan signatures. This occurred even before the disaster that was Election Day.

Early absentee ballots left in unorganized shambles, meaning election results of a Tuesday Election Day weren’t known until Friday of that week.

A dozen polling locations that didn’t open on time, essentially turning away voters who sought to exercise their right and duty as Americans to vote. A judge had to intervene to keep those polling places open longer, but much of the damage already was done at that point.

Partisan sniping, name-calling and vitriol — instead of workable solutions — slung by members of the existing election office.

Nepotism taking center stage in the mess, with Democratic election Director Kathy Kozuszek, who also happens to be the wife of the county Democratic Party Chairman Jeff Chidester, who appointed her, contributing a large share of the finger-pointing and vitriol.

Then-Porter County Clerk Karen Martin, who was supposed to be leading the elections process, hiding from public view for 48 hours while some of the worst parts of the debacle unfolded.

The Soliday and Aylesworth bill to address this disaster strikes the right chords of bipartisan oversight, prohibitions on nepotism and augmented checks and balances in the election process without creating a large or unwieldy board to do it.

Under the bill, a five-person board of elections and voter registration, led by a director, would oversee Porter County elections.

The Democratic and Republican county chairmen each would appoint two members of the board, and those appointees would serve two-year terms.

Those members would have to be Porter County voters and of no family relation to the chairmen making the appointments.

The elected Porter County clerk would serve as the fifth board member.

That duty would fall to newly elected Clerk Jessica Bailey, a Democrat, who said she’s “cautiously optimistic” about the proposed legislative fix.

The Soliday and Aylesworth bill also enjoys bipartisan support from Republican and Democratic Porter County commissioners.

The bill was crafted after lawmakers met with local leaders, seeking their input.

It’s time for all state lawmakers and the governor to get behind the proposal and bring it to fruition.

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The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. January 10, 2019

All over the map

The Vera Institute for Justice, a nonprofit group that advocates for fair, humane prisons, recently issued an updated version of a fascinating map of jail and prison rates across the country. The map - at trends.vera.org - allows viewers to compare numbers geographically, demographically and over time. Even a cursory look yields data that cry for more study.

Why, for instance, is Indiana’s pretrial jail incarceration rate so much higher than most of our neighbors? In 2015, Indiana jailed 271.1 people per 100,000 population before trial. Illinois jailed 157.1 per 100,000; Ohio jailed 145.7; Michigan, 126.1. Only Kentucky detained arrestees before their cases were resolved at a higher rate.

Indiana’s overall rate for those jailed or imprisoned per 100,000 population was 993.4, also higher than the overall incarceration rates in Ohio (913.7), Michigan (883.4) and Illinois (747.4).

No doubt there are many reasons incarceration rates vary so widely among neighboring counties and other states. And surely many causes drove precipitous increases in imprisonments here and nationally over the past few decades. But the numbers are often puzzling.

Disparities between state laws no doubt account for some of the variances. But that doesn’t explain why incarceration rates within Indiana differ significantly by county. In 2015, for instance, the site shows Marion County had an average of 311 persons jailed per 100,000 population and a state prison population rate of 883. In the same year, Allen County had an average of 252 jail inmates per 100,000 and a prison population rate of 695.

The rates of some rural counties were particularly striking. Even more intriguing, though, is an inexorable rise in incarceration rates in recent years. Allen County had an average of just 93 jail inmates per 100,000 in 1970, according to Vera’s compilation; Marion County’s rate was 151 that year.

“Look at the change over time,” said Rachel Blakeman, director of the Community Research Institute at Purdue Fort Wayne. “Was there really that much less crime happening?”

Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards said she takes surveys such as Vera’s “with a grain of salt. I’m not sure how much they tell us.

“Every county is different,” she said. “They each have their own court system.”

In smaller counties, rates may be higher because “they routinely jail DUI’s. Larger counties can’t do that - we’d go broke if we did that,” Richards said.

She said she isn’t surprised that Marion County shows high incarceration rates, because there simply is a lot of crime there. Another factor behind incarceration increases in rural counties may be the lack of alternative programs and special courts that urban counties like Allen use to divert defendants from jail and prison.

“The larger you are, the wealthier you are, the more programs you have that help people stay out of jail,” Richards said.

But while jail and prison rates may be skewed by any number of variables, Blakeman says it’s important we understand what’s driving such numbers because of “the cost of sending people to jail and the expense of the ongoing effects.”

The numbers in Vera’s map merit further study. They strongly suggest justice is administered differently in different places.

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South Bend Tribune. January 9, 2019

Stop fearmongering in Indiana debate over hate crimes law

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb has made clear his determination to see the state end its dubious distinction as one of only five states without a hate crimes law.

One argument against Indiana adopting such legislation is, unfortunately, also apparent.

Last week, Holcomb said that he would be active in the General Assembly’s debate over a hate crimes law. How active? “Uber,” was his reply.

Holcomb’s support for hate crime legislation in the past was more behind-the-scenes. That changed in the wake of last summer’s spray-painting of a swastika outside a suburban Indianapolis synagogue. In a statement a few days later, he said: “No law can stop evil, but we should be clear that our state stands with the victims and their voices will not be silenced ... it is my intent that we get something done this next legislative session, so Indiana can be 1 of 46 states with hate crimes legislation — and not 1 of 5 states without it.”

Holcomb also said that he planned to meet with “lawmakers, legal minds, corporate leaders and citizens of all stripes” on the issue so that “we can move forward as a state.”

Three lawmakers offered opposition in a Viewpoint published last week in The Tribune. The op-ed, signed by state Reps. Curt Nisly, Christopher Judy, Matt Hostettler and Bruce Borders, said hate crimes legislation “seeks to criminalize the thoughts of Hoosiers.”

They further claim that supporters of this legislation “are trying to mask their effort to plunge Indiana into a surveillance state.”

Such fearmongering is regrettable, and coming from elected officials, it’s irresponsible. Contrary to the Orwellian images conjured up by the lawmakers’ op-ed, hate crime laws are directed at people who commit criminal acts, not those who simply hold unpopular views. The legislation — which varies from state to state — generally allows for stiffer sentences to be given to people who are convicted of crimes motivated by hatred or bias. Supporters believe that adopting such measures also sends an important message to all about rejecting hate.

And as for the common refrain that such laws target “thought crimes,” Holcomb said this: “You want to have a moronic thought ... that’s your right. But when it becomes a criminal action, you’ve crossed the line.”

As we’ve said before, we believe it’s past time for Indiana to pass a hate crimes law. Further, we hope that the debate over this legislation will be guided by facts and a study of the experience of the 45 states who have such laws on the books. Misinformation and stirring up public fear should have no place in the discussion.

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