OHIO — “This Amendment would add a new section 12 to Article XV of the Ohio Constitution to reduce the number of people in state prison for low-level, nonviolent drug possession or drug use offenses or for non-criminal probation violations and by providing sentence credits for participation in rehabilitative programs and to direct the savings achieved by such reductions in incarceration to drug treatment programs and other purposes.”

 

So reads the opening summary of, “The Neighborhood Safety, Drug Treatment, and Rehabilitation Amendment,” which will take its place on the November ballot as Issue One. The summary continues, with the proposed amendment calling for the savings earned through reduced incarceration be directed into drug treatment programs. Specifically stating that these funds should, “supplement not supplant,” the funding obligations of state and local governments. Drug treatment programs would also be evaluated on a biennial basis for efficiency and effectiveness.

The proposed amendment further calls for incarcerated individuals to receive sentence credits for participating in rehabilitative work or educational programming up to a maximum of 25 percent of their stated sentence. Plus the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction would be able to add, at its discretion, an additional 30 days worth of sentence credits for completing such programming. This provision would not apply to, “…individuals serving sentences of death or life without parole or for murder, rape, or child molestation.”

Additionally, the proposed amendment would limit non-violent drug crimes to misdemeanors, with jail time only considered if there are more than two convictions within a 24 month period. Non-criminal probation violations would be treated in a similar manner, with the amendment calling for graduated responses and not for offenders to be immediately returned to prison.

Should the amendment pass, incarcerated individuals would be able to petition the courts to reduce their offenses to the then newly established guidelines.

The amendment is targeting illicit drug users, not those who deal drugs or work for the criminal organizations which distribute drugs. Specifically, the changes would not apply, “…to offenses for the sale, distribution, or trafficking of drugs, nor to any drug offense that was classified as a first, second, or third degree felony as of January 1, 2018.” Nor would it, “…apply to, change, or affect laws or sentencing for the incarceration of individuals convicted of murder, rape, or child molestation.”

Combined, these changes would significantly reduce the likelihood of a non-violent drug offender ever seeing the inside of a jail cell, and instead redirect those individuals to treatment programs that will be, if they are not already, regularly evaluated for success.

As with all ballot initiatives, the Ohio Secretary of State’s office posts arguments both in favor and against the proposed amendment. The statement in favor notes that Ohio currently spends $1.8 billion per year on its prison system. It then argues that the public is not served by sending people struggling with drug addiction to jail, stating, “Treatment and supervision work better to improve public safety than a revolving prison door.”

The arguments against the proposed amendment notes that offering probation to those who possess or use drugs like fentanyl, heroin, and meth would make their punishment lighter than those convicted of disorderly conduct and reckless operation. The statement further argues that passage would send a message to the state’s children that these drugs are not dangerous, and indicate to drug traffickers that doing business in Ohio is low risk.

The argument against also notes that all offenders, and not just non-violent drug users, could receive sentence credits for participating in rehabilitative and educational programming. It states that victims of violent crime would only receive partial justice in such situations.