Issue 1 is a proposed constitutional amendment that will radically change how illegal drugs and criminal defendants are sentenced in our judicial system. It also includes a very dangerous Prison Reform measure that will affect non-drug related prison sentences.
Issue 1 would permanently declassify drug possession offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. Judges would be prohibited from sending repeat offenders to jail, unless they commit three (3) offenses within two (2) years. Judges would also be prevented from putting people in jail, even if they violate their probation.
Currently, possessing dangerous drugs like Fentanyl, Carfentanyl, Cocaine, Methamphetamine, Heroin, LSD and other controlled substances, such as Oxycontin, are felonies. Issue 1 makes possession of these dangerous drugs misdemeanors. A judge cannot impose a jail sentence unless the offender has three (3) convictions in two (2) years. The drugs listed above are lethal and result in thousands of overdoses annually. Should Issue 1 pass, a person found guilty of having less than 20 grams of Fentanyl (enough to kill 10,000 people) would only get a slap on the wrist similar to a speeding ticket. These drugs are fueling the drug epidemic which is ruining lives. Issue 1 moves Ohio toward complete decriminalization of illegal dangerous drugs.
Issue 1 is also a Prison Reform measure that would allow current and future prisoners to receive a 25 percent reduction of their prison sentence under certain circumstances. In other words, Issue 1 takes away a judge’s discretion and arbitrarily reduces sentences for offenders who have already been sentenced. This could result in multiple repeat offenders being released from prison immediately, including those convicted of sex offenses and violent crimes such as Sexual Battery, Gross Sexual Imposition, Involuntary Manslaughter, Robbery, Burglary, Felonious Assault, Kidnapping, Arson and Domestic Violence.
Issue 1 pretends that our community is lacking in drug intervention options; however, nothing could be further from the truth. Our community currently has a variety of treatment options available to those struggling with addiction that are successfully providing treatment as alternatives to incarceration. Miami County’s Drug Court Program works to help addicts get the help they need, but holds participants to strict standards with the consequence of incarceration if they fail to follow established standards. Further, current law allows for Intervention in Lieu of Conviction, which permits an offender to compete drug treatment instead of being convicted of a felony as long as they comply with the Court’s probation terms and conditions. The single most important factor motivating a Drug Court participant or addict to get sober is the threat of a prison sentence for not following the terms of a court ordered treatment program.
In our Miami County community, there are multiple intervention programs available for people who want to break the cycle of addiction including the Hope House, the Miami County Recovery Council and the Recovery and Wellness Center. These programs offer drug detox, medically assisted treatment and intensive outpatient counseling and education programming. UVMC and Samaritan Behavioral Health offer drug detox and treatment services. Additionally, the Miami House, Shelby House and Joshua Ministries offer sober living residences. Our Health Department offers free Narcan, a drug used to revive persons experiencing an overdose. Our first responders offer QRT services both in Piqua and Troy.
I have served on the Hope Over Heroin/Drug Free Coalition where there is a continued effort by a multitude of local agencies to coordinate services and efforts to help addicts and their families beat addiction. The infrastructure of these rehabilitative organizations would be decimated by Issue 1 because there will be no consequences for failing to comply with treatment orders. Furthermore, there are serious questions about future funding for these programs under Issue 1.
Issue 1 is supported largely by out-of-state interest groups and is opposed almost universally by groups that are on the front lines battling the drug epidemic, such as Ohio Supreme Court Justice Maureen O’Connor, the Ohio Judicial Conference, the Ohio Common Pleas Court Judges Association, Association of Municipal and County Court Judges of Ohio, Ohio Bar Association, Ohio Prosecuting Attorney’s Association, Attorney General Mike DeWine, Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police, Ohio Chief Probation Officers Association, Buckeye State Sheriff’s Association, Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center and Ohio Council of Behavioral Health and Family Services Providers.
Notably, California passed a similar proposal, Proposition 47. The research on the results of that measure indicate a spike in the California crime rate. Common sense tells us that lax drug laws cause more drug usage and more crime.
Issue 1 has been proposed at a time when we are facing the worst drug epidemic in memory. It would eliminate felony level consequences for possessing even the most lethal drugs; drugs that are killing our younger generation. It eliminates the single most important factor in rehabilitating people and helping them get off drugs, which is the threat of imposing a prison sentence for violating probation or continued criminal behavior.
The intended design of Issue 1 is to reduce the number of people incarcerated, arguing that cost savings can be returned to the local communities for drug rehabilitative programming and victim services. A recent fiscal analysis from the state’s Office of Budget and Management found that Issue 1 I could end up costing taxpayers millions of dollars. The OBM stated Issue 1’s “prescriptive calculation” to identify savings “would likely substantially overstate the actual savings,” adding it could “…actually increase costs to the state by tens of millions of dollars.”
As a judge, I always consider rehabilitation rather than incarceration. If Issue 1 passes, judicial discretion will be removed and we as a Judiciary will no longer be able to determine the length of offender’s prison sentence nor will we be able to send multiple repeat drug offenders to prison under most circumstances. Issue 1 decriminalizes dangerous drug possession, takes away all consequences for possessing drugs and effectively reduces the vast majority of prison sentences for current prisoners by 25 percent.
Please take the time to study the impact of Issue 1 before you vote.
Jeannine N. Pratt is a judge for the Miami County Court of Common Pleas.