Issue 27

If you're not interested in Cincinnati news, this probably isn't the post for you. I'm fascinated with politics but am leery to comment about specific voting issues because of my role in a local congregation. We have Democrats and Republicans in our church, in addition to independents and non-voters and I think you could make a Biblical case for any of these perspectives [of course, you could probably make defend communism Biblically too, so what does it prove?]. So while I love to watch the American political process play out, I don't want to come out with official endorsements.

That said, I think things change a little bit when it comes to local politics. Usually there are no overlying Christian ethical issues at stake [ex: abortion] so it mostly boils down to opinion/preference. So the following is by no means an endorsement, but food for thought as election day nears.

The biggest issue facing the Cincinnati Metro area this November is Issue 27, a proposed "jail tax." Passage of this issue would raise the Hamilton County sales tax from 6.5% to 7% for eight years, reducing to 6.75% for the next seven years after that. The tax increase is supposed to raise $736million. A similar tax was voted down last year by county voters because the language was suspect [nowhere was the construction of a new jail even mentioned]. The county commissioners decided to overstep the voters and enacted the tax anyway, but a group of citizens petitioned to get the issue on the ballot for approval again this fall.

Support of this issue is pretty popular around here, because everyone wants to fight crime. The Hamilton County Sheriff, a long-time local politician with a solid base of supporters, has warned the public that voting down this referendum would put jailed criminals back on the streets. Somehow, in addition to their release, the Sheriff claims a slew of assault rifles would be back on the streets as well [which still confuses me: do they give guns to them when they leave the jail?]. The message coming across is simple: unless you want to see Snake Plissken roaming the streets of Cincy, pass this levy.

Now if it was totally necessary, I would vote for a jail without hesitation. But there are issues surrounding this issue that are indeed cloudy and need to be explored. Among them are . . .

  • The city rents out jailspace to the US Government for their criminals, something that the county is not required to do. There is absolutely no benefit for the county for this except a stipend that is cheaper than what the county currently rents beds for from neighboring counties [so taxpayers lose money on the deal] and favors which the general public would never see anyway. So instead of looking out for the good of the local crime situation, the county loses jail space to the federal government who is responsible for that issue.
  • We are told that the condition of the Queensgate jail is deteriorating to the point that it's unsafe. I've been all over this city and have seen some shoddy construction and this jail is in much better shape than people realize; the Queensgate jail has passed all building inspections and is in no danger of collapse. Interestingly enough, the sheriff has refused local media the opportunity to tour the structure with photographers to confirm this claim. So follow this reasoning: the jail is collapsing because we say it is. Trust us. Give us money.
  • PEOPLE DON'T UNDERSTAND THE NATURE OF THE COUNTY COURT SYSTEM. Only a very small percentage of criminals are there for long term periods of time. The purpose of the jail is to hold criminals until trial and sentencing until they are sentenced to a state facility. The biggest drain on housing is people forced to wait overnights/weekends to see a judge. The logical solution for this would be to institute a night court [remember Bull?] to process these claims immediately. This would be an investment but would still be more cost effective than this levy.
  • Even worst case scenario, the people being "released early" are not dangerous criminals. They are people who are charged with low-grade misdemeanors such as public intoxication. These people still have their day in court.

You just have to ask yourself: is it worth three-quarters of A BILLION DOLLARS without making every effort to try other alternatives? But that was never investigated. Ironic that Republicans are usually known for lamenting the tax-and-spend Democrats but in this case a Republican has led the charge, with some Democrats supporting and others criticizing. This issue supersedes party affiliations. But, most importantly, proponents have the big money backing to make it work. And for that reason it will probably pass. Could you imagine if someone wanted to take that money and invest it into community education/jobs programs, into fighting the our horrendous infant mortality rate, or into affordable housing for the poor? It would be called "a handout" and quickly defeated.

But these are some of the root issues surrounding the crime problem in this county.

Instead: build bigger jails.

It might make sense to you, but it doesn't to me.