Sunday, November 2, 2008

Mason pushes back against Plain Dealer

Tense times between Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason and the Plain Dealer. Yesterday the paper published a very back-handed endorsement of him. In today's paper, Mason challenges its report on racial disparities in the justice system.

Saturday's editorial blasted Mason as too political and says he's maintained friendships with questionable people (we assume they mean Pat O'Malley). The editorial board says it wouldn't have endorsed him had his opponent, Annette Butler, run a stronger campaign.

Mason responds to the PD's "Justice Blinded" series (see part 1 here, part 2 here) in a Forum op-ed today. His arguments that the series was flawed are serious enough that the PD ran a follow-up news story about them.

In the story, Mason also pledges to study the clear racial disparities in the drug-crime sentences of black and white offenders in Cuyahoga County. But he denies his office is causing the justice gap, and he attacks some of the catchy anecdotes in "Justice Blinded."

Articles like the "Justice Blinded" series usually identify a trend with statistics, explain why it's happening, and offer dramatic anecdotes to make the point memorable. All three parts should hold up.

From the evidence Mason has offered, it looks like some of the paper's shocking tales -- of a black person getting a felony and jail time while a white person who committed a worse crime gets treatment -- were not the prosecutor's fault.
Blaming Mason wasn't the whole point of the series, but it did identify the prosecutor's office as a major influence in who gets treatment or a plea deal and who doesn't. Mason argues that other court institutions, from judges to the probation department, deserve more blame for the justice gap than the series suggests.

Mason hasn't refuted the series, but it looks like he's found some weaknesses in it. Anyone who reads the series should also read today's two articles.

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