by Capital Bureau Chief Marc Kovac
Gary Allan Betz is getting out of prison this summer after serving nearly 30 years for murder. James Teague, also convicted of murder, and Clyde Beck, a child rapist, aren't.
All three, via legal counsel, appeared before the state's parole board recently.
They all had friends and family on hand while their attorneys argued for early releases (victims' families and friends offered convincing testimony to the contrary).
They also all, apparently, have medical conditions their lawyers thought important enough to mention publicly in support of parole.
The brief disclosure during last week's hearings are probably the only way average Ohioans (including potential neighbors to parolees) can learn about the health of individual prisoners.
Medical records are among the documents exempted from public scrutiny in the state's Sunshine Laws -- even when they relate to convicted criminals whose doctor bills are paid by public funds.
Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins questioned that policy while arguing against parole for Betz, Teague and Beck. He said information on inmates' medical conditions wasn't made available to his office prior to the hearings. And he raised an interesting question: Should such information, when related to murderers and rapists who are slated for release, be open for review, at least by the victims who have to argue against parole?
To be fair, there's a lot of information available about folks doing time in Ohio prisons. The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction maintains a Web site (www.drs.state.oh.us/offendersearch) with a user-friendly search system.
Type in a name and you see a prisoner's identification number, gender, race, birth date, admission date, offense(s), even a mug shot.
Want to know all the gruesome details behind the state's most heinous murders? It's there, on the same Web site, under the clemency report section.
The state also annually publishes a comprehensive report on activities at correctional institutions. The 2006 count, for example, disclosed overall statistics on the 46,839 offenders housed at 32 Ohio prisons and the 33,466 being supervised by seven adult parole authorities.
It cost more than $1.4 billion to run the prisons and parole and community services operations of the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, according to the annual report. That total includes $167 million in medical services.
Translated, that's about $69.41 per inmate per day, according to the report. About half of that is for security, but $10.12 covers medical services.
And there is a mechanism in the department's records policy for physicians and attorneys to access medical records, if the inmate signs a written release and if a doctor or lawyer signs a written request for the documents. But the average Ohioan can't get that same information.
Teague, 56, was convicted of aggravated murder for killing a World War II veteran who was sitting at a table eating a sandwich. He's been in prison since 1976 and won't be up for parole again until 2017.
A lawyer told the parole board that Teague recently was diagnosed with hepatitis C and is slated to start a year's worth of treatment.
Beck, 57, was convicted of raping two young girls repeatedly in the late 1980s and will have to serve out the remainder of his 25-year sentence (he's been in more than 17 years and won't be released until 2014).
His lawyer told the parole board that Beck has suffered two heart attacks, with the second resulting in bypass surgery. Betz, 53, shot a man point blank in the face after robbing a tavern just before Christmas 1976 and is set to for release on or after July 16.
His attorney said Betz has an auto-immune deficiency that causes skin and joint problems and can eventually affect internal organs. Fifty percent of victims die within five years, he said.
"In a sense, he's been walking on egg shells and hoping that he makes it," the attorney said.
Now the rest of us will be walking on egg shells, hoping he doesn't re-offend.
Marc Kovac is the Dix Newspapers Capital Bureau chief. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.