On Nov. 6, 2018, voters will be asked to vote on Issue 1, which is a constitutional amendment proposed by initiative petition to add a new section 12 to article XV of the Constitution of the State of Ohio.
Issue 1, if passed would require reductions of sentences of incarcerated individuals by up to 25 percent if they participate in rehabilitation, work, or educational programming. It would mandate that criminal offenses of obtaining, possessing, or using any drug such as fentanyl, heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, LSD, or other controlled substances cannot be classified as a felony, but only a misdemeanor. Issue 1 would also prohibit jail time as a sentence for obtaining, possessing, or using such drugs until an individual’s third offense within 24 months. Issue 1 would also allow an individual convicted of a drug offense prior to the effective date of the amendment to request the court to reduce the conviction to a misdemeanor, regardless of whether the individual had completed the sentence. It would also prohibit courts from ordering persons on probation for felonies to be sent to prison for non-criminal probation violations. To prohibit courts from sentencing subjects on probation for violating their conditions of probation, just makes no sense at all. If passed this will tie the hands of the judges and remove all consequences for persons violating their probation. Probation officers would lose authority over those persons placed on community control because there would be no penalty for violating the conditions of probation.
Issue 1 is an attempt to reduce the state’s cost of housing inmates at the state level, and puts the burden of incarceration on local governments. If Issue 1 is passed, we will see an increase of individuals incarcerated at the local level and the anticipated increases will burden local jails.
In Shelby County, our jail is operating near full capacity. If there were an increase in persons incarcerated, we would have few options. The first option would be to quit housing federal inmates, which would eliminate approximately one million dollars a year going to the general fund of the county. The second option would be to house the inmates in other counties, which would cost our county by having to pay other counties for those incarcerated. With the Sheriff’s Office currently being the third largest contributor to the general fund, this amendment would indisputably put a burden on the entire county.
When we were faced with the epidemic of “bath salts” our legislators acted and got the contents of bath salts to be considered a scheduled drug. This action allowed law enforcement to charge those for obtaining or possessing those drugs. This initiative proved to be productive, as it basically resolved the tribulations we were having with bath salts. We don’t need lenient drug laws; we need stricter drug laws to keep people from dealing drugs in our state.
With the purported savings the state would save from the decrease in inmates being incarcerated if Issue 1 were passed, it is proposed for 70 percent of the savings to go to the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, and 30 percent to crime victim programs and other rehabilitation programs. I am in favor of utilizing funding for addiction services, but I am perplexed as to how the state will know how much money they are saving and going to put into these programs. Currently, we lack adequate facilities for those seeking treatment, so if Issue 1 passes, where will people receive treatment?
We are well aware of the substance abuse problem in Shelby County. We have been addressing the problem by having programs in support of those seeking treatment. Currently however, we don’t have enough space for those persons. We are also in the process of securing our jail in case we should have an accidental fentanyl exposure. If Issue 1 would pass someone who can possess enough fentanyl to kill a quarter of Shelby County would only receive a misdemeanor.
The bottom line is if Issue 1 passes, it will eliminate the consequences for those people who use drugs. If Issue 1 passes, Ohio would become one of the most lenient states in the nation for drug laws. If Issue 1 does pass, a recent analysis by the State Office of Budget and Management states the changes could in fact result in additional costs into the “tens of millions of dollars.” Issue 1 will only help the dealers deal and will increase our drug issues. I will be voting “NO” and I ask voters to vote NO because Issue 1 as written will only hurt our community.
The writer is the chief deputy of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office.