Ohio Issue 1: The Neighborhood Safety, Drug Treatment, and Rehabilitation Amendment

One in five incarcerated people – nearly 500,000 people nationwide – are locked up for drug offenses, contributing to the crisis of mass incarceration. People struggling with drug addiction should receive medical treatment, not be criminalized, and should not lose access to their families and support networks.

The Ohio Neighborhood Safety amendment will reduce the number of people incarcerated in state prisons for minor non-violent crimes and non-criminal probation violations. It will invest in treatment and local service programs that focus on the rehabilitation and health, and people affected by incarceration. This November 6th, Ohioans voters can help address mass incarceration by voting yes on Issue 1, the Neighborhood Safety, Drug Treatment, and Rehabilitation Amendment.

The United States and Ohio Have a Mass Incarceration Problem

The United States leads the world in incarceration, with 2.4 million people in prison. Over 60% of people who are incarcerated are people of color, and 75% of the people who are incarcerated for drug offenses are people of color. The prison population has exploded since the 1980s, when the War on Drugs targeted Black and Latinx communities. The War on Drugs was a series of zero-tolerance drug policies implemented at the state and federal level, which resulted in the boom of the private prison industry and mass incarceration of people of color.

Despite no public demand for harsher drug laws, some of the toughest drug laws were implemented across the country during this time period, such as classifying marijuana as a schedule I substance. To garner public support for these bad policies, lawmakers and stakeholders in the prison industry spread hysteria through media outlets. By the end of 1980s, over 60% of the U.S. population identified the War on Drugs as the number one public safety issue. These laws, coupled with intense policing focused on drug-related offenses, destroyed communities of color well into the late 1990s.

Recently, public opinion has shifted, in favor of more sensible reforms like marijuana legalization and public health-based approaches to drug policy. President Obama increased federal funding for clean syringe programs, enacted the Fair Sentencing Act, reducing the sentence disparity between crack and powder cocaine, and gave states autonomy to legalize marijuana.

Despite progress at the federal level, some states still have excessively strict penalties for drug offenses. Ohio ranks 9th in the country in spending on state prisons. 1 of every 25 adult Ohio residents is under correctional supervision, with 38% of released people returning to prison within 3 years of release. Ohio spends $1.3 billion annually on its broken criminal justice system, funding 31 prisons across the state. Taxpayers shoulder the burden of paying for these jails and prisons, which is a waste of resources . Funding for prisons could be better utilized on treatment and prevention programs that reduce recidivism (the likelihood that a previously incarcerated person will return to prison), and lowering its prison population. Ohioans deserve to invest in reducing the state’s prison spending by providing local drug treatment and programs that improve public safety.

What will the Neighborhood Safety Amendment do?

The Neighborhood Safety Amendment addresses factors that contribute to recidivism and unjust sentencing perpetuated by incarcerating individuals en masse for low-level offenses. The Amendment focuses on health and transformation as the rehabilitative methods needed to address drug offenses; invests savings accrued from decreasing the jail and prison population into the communities most impacted by drug addiction; and proposes alternatives to incarcerating individuals who could benefit from drug rehabilitation services. These community-based recovery programs aim to help repair the lives of those affected by drug addiction and incarceration by:

  • Reclassifying drug offenses

  • Reducing incarceration for probation violators

  • Encouraging sentencing credits

  • Spreading savings across communities

Reclassifying drug offenses

Currently drug possession, drug procurement, and use of illegal drugs or drug paraphernalia are classified as a second-degree misdemeanor, felony, or higher, depending on the drug type and amount possessed, carry a minimum of 6 months or more in jail. The associated fine could be $5,000, while a first-degree misdemeanor could include a fine up to $1,000, but not more than 180 days in prison, and probation.

The Neighborhood Safety Amendment would reclassify these drug offenses as first degree-misdemeanors. Under the Neighborhood Safety Amendment, first- and second-time violations within a 2-year span would be prohibited from including incarceration as part of the punishment. People who are currently incarcerated for possessing, obtaining, and/or using drugs will be able to petition to the court to change the class of their offense, and be considered for resentencing—and in some cases, they could be immediately released.

Reducing incarceration of people who violate probation

Each year, over 20 percent of the people sent to prison are incarcerated for probation violations, not for committing new crimes. Under the Neighborhood Safety Amendment, the court would prohibit giving individuals on probation a prison sentence for violating probation without committing any new violations. The ballot measure proposes graduated responses for probation violations, in lieu of serving time in jail. Graduated responses allow the court to consider other contributing factors—drug addiction, economic stability, demonstration of law-abiding behavior, etc.—and apply more reasonable accountability measures to people who violate their probation.

Encouraging sentencing credits

Studies and testimonials have shown that rehabilitation services are more impactful when people receive sentence credits as an incentive to attend and that these services contribute to reducing recidivism. Sentence credits are deductions taken off of an incarcerated person’s prison and /or jail time. Under the Neighborhood Safety Amendment, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction is required to give sentence credits for each day a person has participated in the rehabilitative programs being offered. The credits can reduce a maximum of 25% of the sentence time. Each day of participation in  work, educational or rehabilitative program a credit is earned. Upon completion of any of the rehabilitative programs, an individual can receive an additional 30 days of sentence credits. The ballot measure authorizes the application of sentence credits for currently incarcerated persons. However, this provision disqualifies individuals convicted of violent offenses from receiving credits.

Spreading savings across communities

The Neighborhood Safety Amendment includes provisions that will contribute to a substantial reduction in the prison population, resulting in massive monetary savings for the state of Ohio. This new surplus of funds will be invested into rehabilitation efforts and graduated response programs, such as local drug treatment programs, crime victim services, and probation services. The state legislature will budget for the projected savings every two years. For the first three years the budget will be as follows: 70% of the savings would be invested in grant programs at the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. The remaining 30% would be for adult and juvenile probation support services (half of which must be spent on trauma programs),  and programs to support crime victims. By 2022, the state legislature would be in control of distributing funds, but would still required to invest 60% of the savings in substance abuse treatment and crime victims programs.

What You Can Do

Local Indivisibles have partnered with a coalition of groups across Ohio to support the Neighborhood Safety Amendment by joining local canvasses and phone banks.

To find your local Indivisible group, visit https://indivisible.org/groups.

Sign-up to text and phone bank here! Help get out the vote yes for Issue 1 and bring criminal justice reform to Ohio!

Additional Resources