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COLUMBUS, Ohio – Is Issue 1 on Ohio's November ballot a solution for both mass incarceration and the opioid epidemic? It depends on who you ask.
If passed, Issue 1 would make offenses related to drug possession and use no more than misdemeanors; prohibit sending those on probation for felonies to prison for non-criminal violations; and create a program to reduce sentences for participation in rehabilitative, work or educational programs.
Executive Director of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association Louis Tobin contends the reforms are too broad.
"You don't actually have to complete the programming,” says Tobin. “You don't have to actually demonstrate that you've been rehabilitated. There's no opportunity for input from the victim from the prosecutor or from the judge before the decision is made to release the person 25 percent early. And it's not limited to nonviolent offenses, it's not limited to drug offenses."
Opponents also argue the measure would create the most lenient drug laws in the country and allow drug traffickers to walk the streets. But Assistant Professor of Health Policy at Ohio University Dan Skinner believes that's a misrepresentation.
He explains that the line between a dealer and a user is thinner than many may realize.
"People whose kids had some drugs and passed them to a friend, and then the friend died or the friend got caught,” says Skinner. “Those people could be caught up in the legal system as dealers. I don't think that any of those parents see their kids as dealing in any legitimate sense of the word."
If passed, the measure also would require the state to spend any money saved resulting from Issue 1 on drug treatment, crime victims and rehabilitation programs.
Tobin also takes issue with the reforms occurring by constitutional amendment.
"It's just a really bad way to set public policy,” says Tobin. “There's no opportunity to amend the proposal to address potential unintended consequences. And that's kind of the good thing about the legislative process is that you get input from everybody; you have opportunity for testimony for amendments and you fix these things."
However Stephen Johnsongrove, deputy director for policy for the Ohio Justice and Policy Center, counters that state leaders have yet to solve these problems.
"The legislative attempts to shrink the prison population and reinvest that money into something productive have not worked. There have been at least four attempts and they've failed and failed and failed again. And people cannot wait, people are dying, and we have got to do something meaningful."
The Fraternal Order of Police, the Buckeye State Sheriff's Association and the State Bar Association are among those opposing Issue 1. More than 770,000 signatures of support were gathered to get the measure on the ballot, and supporting organizations include the ACLU and the Ohio Education Association.
Reporting by Ohio News Connection in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded in part by the George Gund Foundation.