Ohio Will Vote on a Sentencing Reform Bill in November

What you need to know about Issue 1


|||Stefano Ember/Dreamstime.com
Stefano Ember/Dreamstime.com

When Ohio voters head to the polls next month, they will have the opportunity to pass or reject Issue 1, a state constitutional amendment. As the Dayton Daily News sums it up, Issue 1 would do the following:

—Convert felony 4 and felony 5 drug possession and drug use crimes to misdemeanors with no jail time for first and second offenses committed within a 24-month period;
— Keep drug trafficking crimes as felonies;
— Prohibit judges from sending people to prison if they violate probation with something other than a new crime, such as missing an appointment;
— Cut prison time for offenders who complete rehabilitation programs, except those convicted of murder, rape or child molestation;
— Put money saved by fewer people going to prison into drug treatment and crime victim programs;
— Allow people convicted of certain drug crimes to petition the court for re-sentencing or release or to have the charge changed.

Travis Irvine, Ohio's Libertarian candidate for governor, has come out for the amendment, saying: "Even though it is far from perfect, I fully support Issue 1 because it moves the needle in the right direction—away from prosecuting and punishing non-violent people for behavior that doesn't harm their neighbors. I want to work steadily toward full legalization and decriminalization of the personal use of marijuana by adults." His Democratic challenger, Richard Cordray, also supports the amendment. His Republican challenger, Mike DeWine, is opposed.

Supporters of the amendment say it will save "tens of millions of dollars" out of the $1.8 billion-plus that Ohio spends on its "revolving prison door." They expect approximately $136 million to be redirected to treatment. Ohio Justice and Policy Center Deputy Director Stephen Johnson Grove, who helped draft the bill, estimates that 2,600 of the state's 50,000 prison population were convicted for lower-level drug offenses. Supporters also note that the relevant data show no correlation between imprisonment and lower drug use.

Opponents, such as the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association and the Ohio Judicial Conference, argue that it is actually a negative to make the punishment for possession lower than the punishment for crimes such as "disorderly conduct and reckless operation." They also cite a state Office of Budget Management report that claims that the suggested savings will be only $1.3 million a year. And they claim the measure will cause children to believe that fentanyl, heroin, and meth are not dangerous.

The measure requires a majority yes vote to pass.

Bonus link: Florida's Amendment 4 seeks to restore the voting rights of ex-felons who have served their time.