Taft supports not ''stigmatizing'' ex-cons; insisted on stigmatizing CHL-holders


Gov. Bob Taft has no problem with making it harder for the public to obtain information on persons who have broken the laws he is sworn to protect. Yet in a last-ditch attempt to kill HB12 last November, he began insisting that law-abiding citizens who obtain concealed handgun licenses (CHLs) have their privacy violated, and their identities available to the public.

No mention of a fabled 'right to know' from Taft. No fears that the 'wrong people' might get jobs at the 'wrong places' because this information is hard to obtain. No insistence that it's in the public good for people to be able to easily look up their neighbors or co-workers potential status as ex-cons.

Keep in mind as you read - two of Ohio's 2006 Governor hopefuls, Attorney General Jim Petro and Auditor Betty Montgomery, supported Taft's 11th hour move to make CHL-holders' identities public.

Apr. 01, 2004
Akron Beacon Journal

Ohio yanks data on ex-cons

State aims to avoid adding to stigma via Web site. Victims' advocate objects

Last month, Ohio prison officials quietly tapped a few computer keys and removed the names of all former inmates from the state's Web site.

Thousands of names, plus photos and the descriptions of crimes committed by former convicts -- records that had been available to the public 24 hours a day for six years -- were removed.

Today, what remains on the site are the names of those inmates who are under control of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

The policy change has drawn a mix of reactions from advocates for crime victims and former inmates as well as those interested in access to public records.

Prison Director Reginald Wilkinson defended his decision Wednesday, saying the change was prompted after years of complaints by former inmates and their families.

Although the original Web site was created under his direction in 1998, Wilkinson said he believes that those who have served their time should be able to move forward without such public broadcast of their crimes.

"We have found... because certain former inmates have their picture on the Web site, it's been a disadvantage for them and an embarrassment that has kept them in some cases from getting jobs, and we think that is unfair,'' he said.

"We think that at some point we have to retire the debt that these folks have paid.''

Until recently, the prison system's "Offender Search'' Web page contained the names, ages, crimes, time served and, in some cases, photos of those who had served or were serving time.

It was an easy way to check, for instance, if your neighbor, co-worker or child's teacher had ever been in an Ohio prison.

Wilkinson said the database was originally designed for crime victims to track their offender's prison location and release date, and not necessarily for use by the public.

In some cases, Wilkinson said, parents of former offenders have approached him at speeches questioning the practice and the need to continue posting the names and photos long after an inmate has been released.

"This is something that has happened over the course of years. It's not something that happened all of a sudden,'' Wilkinson said of the debate. "We believe that we shouldn't do anything to create problems for people who are trying to turn their lives around.''

Robert Denton, director of the Victim Assistance program in Summit County, said his clients welcomed Ohio's site when it went online, and many used it regularly.

He criticized Wilkinson's decision to remove the former inmates' names, saying the policy appears to benefit the offenders over the interest of the public and crime victims.

"From the offender's standpoint, they'll like the change. From the victim's standpoint, I don't think it's a good idea,'' Denton said. "For people who need to know or want to know for their own peace of mind, it was a good thing. I think that information should be out there. If you're sent down (to prison), that's the cost of being sent down.''

Call for information

Wilkinson said the information removed from the site is still available upon request. He said the department's victim assistance counselors continue to help those who ask.

In addition, the public can contact the department and request records of former inmates by calling 614-752-1159. The phone number was not available on the Web site until Wednesday, after Wilkinson spoke with the Beacon Journal.

"I'm not making it more difficult for anybody,'' Wilkinson said in response to the criticism. "I can't satisfy everybody in the world, and I don't plan to.''

Gov. Bob Taft is not opposed to eliminating names of former inmates from the prison Web site, spokesman Orest Holubec said. The governor, however, asked prison officials to place "clear instructions (on the Web site) on how the public can obtain this information.''

"Gov. Taft wants to ensure that the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction promptly reply to an inquiry about inmates previously incarcerated, and Director Wilkinson has assured the governor he will do that,'' Holubec said Wednesday.

Ex-convict's view

Conversely, Mark Paulus, director of justice services for Community Connection for Ohio Offenders, a support and advocacy group for ex-cons, hailed Wilkinson's decision.

Paulus, who was an inmate in the 1990s, said he was stigmatized by the Web site, which revealed his criminal past and embarrassed him and his wife and son.

He said removing the names will remove the stigma that inmates have when reacclimating to society and will help them obtain work. He said victims and the public still have access to prison records, just not on the Internet.

"Even though you paid your debt and the punishment was over, there was really no end to it, no matter where you went, because it was always available on the Internet,'' he said. "My thing is, when is it over?

'When is it over'? Thanks to Bob Taft, it will never be over for CHL-holders, at least not until the General Assembly moves to fix its error and override Taft.

At the same time as Taft was orchestrating this issue in Ohio in a last-ditch attempt to kill concealed-carry reform, Florida legislators were working to make these types of records even more difficult to obtain, even for law enforcement. They knew what Taft wouldn't admit - that the records are not legitimate law-enforcement tools and are instead part of "a phony excuse to harass and abuse American citizens.''

Rep. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican, said he's troubled by the idea that police agencies across the state are tracking people who are exercising a right enshrined in the state and U.S. constitutions.

''We're at a point in our history where the government is trying to slowly take away our rights, piece by piece, and I'm trying to stop that,'' Baxley said. ``By accumulating all this data, it could fall into the wrong hands. And that could be a treacherous thing.''

In 1994, Federal law was changed to make it illegal for states to disclose automobile registration information to the public. Prior to that, anyone could send a request to a state Bureau of Motor Vehicles, pay a small fee, provide a license plate number, and learn the name and address of the vehicle's owner.

The law was changed after a stalker used this method to track down and kill actress Rebecca Shaefer in California. Ohioans who obtain concealed carry licenses deserve no less than the same right to privacy that Federal law guarantees to everyone who owns a vehicle.

So why is Bob Taft supportive of efforts to make it more difficult to obtain the identities of ex-convicts, simply to avoid "stigmatizing" them, yet adamant that law-abiding CHL-holders have their privacy violated?

What if the violent stalker who was shot by this Indiana woman had known in advance that she was carrying?
''God's grace'' (and concealed firearm) saves Indiana woman's life

Like Bob Taft, these Ohio newspapers could care less about women like this in Ohio, much less about your opinion: Rotten Apples and Sour Grapes

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Only one of three 2006 Governor-hopefuls would have done it better than Taft

Letter to the Editor: No such thing as 'Right to Know'

Asked and Answered. Tracking the Taft "invasion of privacy" conspiracy

Indiana newspaper hears loud voice of opposition to publishing CCW list

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