Q: Has anything like this been done in other states?
In 2015 and 2016 both “red” and “blue” states have reclassified all drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor. Five states -- Alaska, California, Connecticut, Oklahoma and Utah – enacted changes similar to what is proposed in Ohio Issue 1: No prison time until the third conviction and no drug types or weights were specified.
The left-leaning Urban Institute reviewed the states’ changes and released an Oct. 2 study with recommendations.
- In California, the prison population decrease was 15,000 fewer inmates and a $68 million savings in the first year. However, the state invested more money -- $100 million – in grants for mental health, victims services and crime prevention.
- In Utah, the prison population decreased 9 percent. The state is required to invest $10 million in behavioral health programs and treatment staff training.
- In December only 134 people were in Connecticut prisons for drug possession, a 74 percent decline.
- The study recommended states move from prison to probation for many drug crimes, but they need to invest in supervision practices that evidence shows is effective.
- It also said states need to invest in treatment, to prevent waiting lists and delays for addicts who want help.
Seven months ago, the Pew Charitable Trusts released research that it said reinforced other studies showing stiff prison terms don’t “deter drug misuse, distribution and other drug-law violations. The evidence strongly suggests that policymakers should pursue alternative strategies that research shows work better and cost less.”
Q: What are the philosophical differences behind the divide?
: Issue 1 supporters and opponents have philosophical differences on how to approach drug offenders.
Among opponents’ concerns about Issue 1:
- Its message to children will be that drugs are not dangerous.
- Without drug court judges’ threat of throwing defendants behind bars, they won’t seek treatment or follow the court’s plan for rehabilitating their lives. This could sink them further into their addiction and will kill many Ohioans.
- The amendment is poorly written and will overwhelm the courts with lawsuits over its details such as people suing to obtain adequate drug treatment. Potential conflicts with other parts of the Ohio Constitution could also end up in court, such as the crime victim rights that Ohioans adopted into the Constitution last year in Marsy’s Law.
- Since there are already laws that keep low-level drug offenders out of prison, many of the drug offenders are behind bars because of multiple offenses or because they committed other crimes when caught with drugs. "We hear so often it's a disease. We don't put people in jail for diabetes or heart trouble...My response to that is diabetics don't steal in order to get their insulin," Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor said.
Among supporters’ arguments:
- Ohioans are already dying – over 13 people died a day last year from drug overdoses.
- The overdose death rate in Ohio continues to increase, showing the status quo isn't effective.
- Addiction is a disease, and needs to be treated as such. Ohio criminal law does adequately reflect modern attitudes and medical research.
To read the article in FULL click here.
Article originally posted on https://www.cleveland.com