Monday, April 28, 2003

Tristate A.M. Report

9 arrested Saturday during OSU fests

COLUMBUS - Police officers broke up fights and made nine arrests Saturday as thousands of people descended on the Ohio State campus for two major festivals and the Buckeyes' spring football game.

Sgt. Brent Mull, a police spokesman, said 37 people were arrested Friday night, 28 of them on alcohol violations, as OSU's annual African-American Heritage Festival and a street party known as Chit Fest began. About 23 tickets were issued Saturday.

"There's responsible partying at this point," he said early Sunday.

Sixteen of those arrested Friday were Ohio State students, Mull said.

With extra officers patrolling the campus area, Mull said there wasn't much trouble Saturday night except for "a couple fights."

He said police had closed some side streets, alleys and parking lots hoping to restrict cruising, a Heritage Festival tradition that features young people circling campus in their cars for hours.

Prisoners nearing release after ruling

CLEVELAND - The Ohio Parole Board has set release dates for the first batch of prisoners to be freed following new parole hearings required by a state Supreme Court decision.

While Ohio prisons are over capacity, it's not yet clear whether the releases will help ease the problem and the state budget crisis.

The board has recommended parole for 38 prisoners after new hearings since late March. Four others were told their sentences will be continued, and one is being sent to a halfway house.

It could take up to a year to complete the estimated 3,000 to 4,000 hearings. Board officials say several hundred prisoners could be released.

"If they qualify for release, we want them out," prisons Director Reginald Wilkinson said earlier this month at a Kent State University symposium on the economics of criminal-justice policies.

The court on Dec. 18 ordered the nine-member parole board to stop calculating hearing dates based on the offenses for which prisoners were indicted, instead of the offenses for which the inmates were convicted.

The new hearings were spurred in part by lawsuits filed on behalf of inmates sentenced before passage in 1996 of Ohio's "truth-in-sentencing" law.

The law resulted in defendants being given definite terms of imprisonment, bypassing the parole board, but left defendants who had been sentenced to indefinite terms before 1996 at the board's mercy.

The state prison system is expected to be at 126 percent of its capacity with the planned shutdown of Lima Correctional Institution, spokeswoman JoEllen Culp said. The Orient Correctional Institution closed last year.

While it costs about $22,000 a year to house an inmate, each release doesn't automatically translate into that amount of savings, said Fritz Rauchenberg, former head of research for the Ohio Criminal Sentencing Commission.

Most of the costs, such as running the building and employing guards, are fixed.

"A prison costs more or less the same amount of money whether you have 1,000 inmates or 2,000 inmates," Rauchenberg said. "Until you reach a point where you can comfortably close a facility or close a wing, it's very difficult to save a lot of money."

About 450 inmates, or about 1 percent of the state prison population, would have to be released for savings in the prison budget, he said.

2 protesters accused of climbing crane

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - Two people face criminal charges after they climbed a 15-story crane in downtown Bloomington to protest plans for the Interstate 69 extension through southwestern Indiana, authorities said.

Colette Eno and Liam Mulholland were arrested and charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct shortly after their Saturday protest, police said.

The two had planned to unfurl an anti-I-69 banner from atop the crane's boom. But fellow Buffalo Trace Earth First member Steve Johnson says the crane operator showed up and kicked the rolled-up banner off the crane.

The sign they had planned to display read: "I-69: Trading Families, Farms and Forests for Pavement" and "I-69 Benefits Who? Them, Not You!"

State officials have designated a route that passes near Bloomington for the planned highway extension between Evansville and Indianapolis.

The route has been opposed by many residents and environmentalists who say it would destroy too much forest and farmland for a minimal economic gain.

Six Flags upgrading parks after slow year

OKLAHOMA CITY - Six Flags Inc. is adding roller coasters and investing in its theme parks in North America and Europe to draw more customers in time for summer.< The Oklahoma City-based company, the No. 2 amusement park operator behind Walt Disney, hasn't been too thrilled with its financial results.

Six Flags posted a net loss each of the past four years, bottoming out last year with a loss of $105.7 million or $1.38 per share. With disappointing attendance late last year, particularly at its largest parks, several analysts downgraded Six Flags' stock and the share price plummeted 57 percent in one day.

Six Flags will spend $130 million in capital investment this year. It opened five new rides last week, including one at Frontier City in Oklahoma City. Parks in Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, Louisville and Jackson, N.J., will get new roller coasters this year.

- Compiled from staff and wire reports

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