Published: Thursday, August 18, 2005
Searing indictment issued against Mahoning County
HOW WE SEE IT
The word dysfunctional stands out a mile in the 22-page report on Mahoning County's criminal justice system issued by a federal court-appointed special master overseeing the county jail.
This dysfunction, writes Atty. Vincent M. Nathan of Toledo, has contributed to problems in the jail. And those problems have triggered federal lawsuits on the issue of overcrowding and understaffing. U.S. District Judge David D. Dowd Jr., who appointed Nathan as a fact finder after inmates won a class-action suit in March, is taking steps to ensure the lock-up passes constitutional muster.
In his report, which was to have been distributed to representatives of all the courts in Mahoning County, the sheriff and prosecutor, police in Youngstown, Austintown and Boardman, the county auditor and the Community Corrections Association, Nathan writes that the jail's problems "are the result of a dysfunctional criminal justice system."
In past years, there has been criticism of the individual entities that make up the county's criminal justice system law enforcement agencies, the prosecutor's office, the courts and the jail but this is the first time anyone has focused on the whole.
Indeed, Nathan has some specific recommendations on how to address this situation. For instance, he is asking Judge Dowd to hire two University of Toledo professors to conduct a docket efficiency study. He wants the professors to track the time that elapses from arrest to final disposition of cases. The dockets maintained by the common pleas court and appeals court judges have long been a topic of discussion among lawyers and of criticism at election time and have even attracted the attention of the chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court.
It's about time that an independent evaluation were conducted so as to answer this overarching question: Is Mahoning County in worse shape than other counties or is it simply average? We can't imagine it being in the top tier in docket management.
Nathan has also proposed that a group, made up of representatives of the courts, the sheriff and prosecutor, police in Youngstown, Austintown and Boardman, the county auditor and the Community Corrections Association, be formed to propose and implement solutions to the criminal justice system. He has set an end-of-the-year deadline for a remedial plan to be in place, with interim reports to be filed on Oct. 1 and Nov. 15.
Judge Dowd has asked all the local officials who received copies of the special master's report to submit written objections, reservations or observations by Aug. 26.
We would hope that the locals do not argue against a wide-ranging evaluation of Mahoning County's criminal justice system. More than just a little tweaking is required. It is a dysfunctional system that will not be corrected by those involved sticking their heads in the sand.
Judge Dowd should endorse Nathan's report and let it known publicly that a top-to-bottom review of the criminal justice system will be conducted. The fact that local officials would be actively involved is a major concession to the county.