The (Findlay) Courier

The nation’s opioid problem is a complicated one that will take a long time to solve. Unfortunately, that means many more people will likely overdose and die.

One pending bill, though, could drastically reduce the supply of dangerous drugs and, in turn, slow the death toll.

Congress should act now, not later, to approve the Synthetic Trafficking & Overdose Prevention Act, or STOP Act. It would, among other things, require the U.S. Postal Service to collect advanced electronic data on incoming packages in the same fashion that private mail carriers like UPS and FedEx have been doing since 2002.

The lack of such data on packaging has allowed large amounts of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids to be shipped into the United States without detection. Those drugs have killed thousands.

The bill’s sponsor is U.S. Sen. Rob Portman and is also supported by Ohio’s other senator, Sherrod Brown.

Congressional hearings were held on the opioid epidemic and STOP on Thursday, the day after the release of a Senate report that documented how easily someone can obtain fentanyl, which was involved in almost 60 percent of all Ohio’s overdose deaths in 2016.

Much of the fentanyl that arrives here is shipped from illegal pharmacies in China through the Postal Service. It is easily available through the internet, and the report found many examples of fentanyl being shipped directly to customers.

An investigation found that in the dozen-plus years after 9/11, the Postal Service did nothing to recognize and prepare for the increase in international mail, and, today, 318 million international packages enter the U.S. annually with little to no screening from customs officials.

That means fentanyl, which is 50 times stronger than heroin, is flowing freely, killing thousands. ...

 

The Canton Repository

With the possible exception of jury duty, most Stark residents will never set foot in our county courthouse, where felony criminal cases are heard. Because a small percentage of the population commits a high percentage of the crimes, the judicial system can seem complicated, even a bit mysterious, to the majority of us who don’t experience it on a regular basis.

Trying to understand some of the more complex elements of sentencing, rehabilitation and public safety, for example, is made none the easier when the opinions of two equally esteemed and equally reasonable sides are entirely at odds.

Such is the case with new sentencing guidelines in Ohio known as T-CAP, which stands for Targeted Community Alternatives to Prison. On one side sit Stark County’s common pleas judges; on the other, state lawmakers and state corrections officials. Both camps firmly believe their positions offer the greater likelihood of best protecting public safety across the state.

As Canton Repository staff writer Ed Balint explains today, starting in July T-CAP will prohibit judges in several Ohio counties (among them Stark) from sending defendants convicted of fifth-degree felonies to state prisons to serve their sentences. There are exceptions for violent crimes, sex offenses and some other circumstances, but for the most part, these low-level felons will stay in Stark County for community sanctions and (ideally) rehabilitation.

The state’s goal: reduce Ohio’s prison population, which hovers around 50,000, to help ensure available beds are filled with the state’s worst offenders. Another benefit, Department of Corrections officials say, is that limited exposure of low-level criminals to more violent offenders improves the odds of the low-level felon not escalating criminal activity.

Hard to argue with those positions, right?

On the other hand, what do you do with the offender who has been given multiple chances at rehabilitation? How many times must we, the public, be put at risk from the same felon who continues to commit crimes?

"One of my jobs is to protect the community," Common Pleas Judge Frank Forchione told Balint. He and Judge Chryssa Hartnett have been particularly vocal with their concern that T-CAP hinders the court’s discretion to do "what is right" with a particular individual.

"It’s not about sending people to prison, it’s about keeping our community safe and managing people in our community," Hartnett told Balint.

Stark’s judges have emphasized that space at the Stark County Jail and local drug treatment facilities is strained. So even though Ohio will send money back to counties for the incarceration costs that are shifting away from the state system, there is concern that the amount will reimburse the counties adequately.

Equally hard to argue with the judges’ positions, right? ....

... Here’s an idea for a possible revision: Beyond the statutory exceptions, why not allow each county a certain number of "wildcard" exemptions to T-CAP — instances when judges could send particularly troublesome nonviolent offenders into the state system? Even if it were only a couple of times per year, it would allow judges to retain discretion while limiting the number of times they could usurp T-CAP and its goals. And it would make our communities safer from offenders who can’t or won’t be rehabilitated. ...

 

The Canton Repository

Chances are you now have heard the name Larry Nassar.

The former doctor for USA Gymnastics has been at the center of an extended sentencing hearing in a Michigan courtroom after he pleaded guilty to 10 counts of first-degree criminal sexual assault.

Much of the hearing has been televised, with cable news channels dropping in for portions of victims’ statements over the past 10 days, showing high-profile athletes telling Judge Rosemarie Aquilina how Nassar had attacked them in his treatment rooms, often with one of their parents present. ...

... The brave women who stepped forward to tell their stories did so after a gymnast named Rachel Denhollander finally found someone to believe her. For years, she told the judge, she hid in disbelief, then shame, about what had happened under Nassar’s care. When she did finally speak up, she said, she was met with doubts and accusations from officials, who protected Nassar because he was highly respected in the athletic community. Another victim said that when she reported she had been abused, officials told her that she didn’t know the difference between sexual assault and a medical treatment.

After Denhollander surfaced, more and more victims stepped forward. On Wednesday, Nassar received up to 175 years in state prison, which would follow a 60-year federal child pornography sentence previously handed down.

In a statement at sentencing, prosecutor Angela Povilaitis listed important takeaways from the Nassar case. We urge all parents and those in authority situations where children are involved to note Povilaitis’ thoughts:

. Adults must listen to victims, regardless of who are the perpetrators. Anyone can be a perpetrator.

. Delayed disclosure of child sexual abuse is common, but victims must speak up to ensure the abuse stops. Predators groom their victims, working to ensure they remain silent.

. Police must not be afraid to take on difficult cases and keep their focus on gaining justice for the victims. ...