Proposed Ohio Constitutional Amendment Backed by Facebook Founders Would Reform Sentencing for Nonviolent, Low-Level Drug Offenders


  • Wikia Commons

The Ohio Ballot Board yesterday certified the ballot language for Issue 1, a proposed Ohio constitutional amendment that would eliminate prison sentences for many low-level, nonviolent drug possession convictions, among other criminal justice reforms, that will appear on the November ballot.

The Ohio Organizing Collaborative is currently spearheading the Ohio Issue 1 campaign, an allegiance of community organizers, church groups and labor unions looking to achieve racial, social and economic justice for all Ohioans. The group landed a major influx of cash from the philanthropic organizations funded by Facebook co-founders Mark Zuckerberg and Dustin Moskovitz, in addition to Zuckerberg's wife Priscilla Chan, which dropped $2 million in total to the campaign trying to pass the issue.

According to state campaign finance reports filed earlier this month and covered by yesterday, The Chan ZuckerBerg Initiative's advocacy arm contributed $1 million while The Open Philanthropy Project donated another million to the campaign's efforts.

If adopted, the amendment would:
  • Require sentence reductions of incarcerated individuals, except individuals incarcerated for murder, rape, or child molestation, by up to 25% if the individual participates in rehabilitative, work, or educational programming.
  • Mandate that criminal offenses of obtaining, possessing, or using any drug such as fentanyl, heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, LSD, and other controlled substances cannot be classified as a felony, but only a misdemeanor.
  • Prohibit jail time as a sentence for obtaining, possessing, or using such drugs until an individual's third offense within 24 months.
  • Allow an individual convicted of obtaining, possessing, or using any such drug prior to the effective date of the amendment to ask a court to reduce the conviction to a misdemeanor, regardless of whether the individual has completed the sentence.
  • Require any available funding, based on projected savings, to be applied to state administered rehabilitation programs and crime victim funds.
  • Require a graduated series of responses, such as community service, drug treatment, or jail time, for minor, non-criminal probation violations.
  • Courtesy of Prison Policy Initiative

According to the Prison Policy Initiative, the United States incarcerates more people per capital than any other nation, and one out of every five incarcerated people are imprisoned for drug charges. Of those individuals, 456,000 are held for possession, trafficking, or other nonviolent drug offenses.

That's nearly half a million people that taxpayers are paying to lock up and nearly half a million people that, upon release, will have criminal records, reducing employment prospects and increasing the likelihood of longer sentences for any future offenses.

Pfeifer and Louis Tobin of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association say the measure has several flaws that they think will make Ohio less safe.

In arguing against the amendment, the attorneys say that it's sending a message to children is that drugs are not dangerous and a message to drug traffickers that doing business in Ohio is low risk.

The attorneys also believe that because the language dealing with drug trafficking offenses uses the word "conviction" instead of offense, courts wouldn't be able to use prison as a threat to get someone into drug treatment programs and that costs for drug treatment and rehabilitation would be shifted to local governments.

Given the fact that it's already been proven that anti-drug programs like "Just Say No" and D.A.R.E. are totally ineffective, mentioning the 'message it sends to children' sounds like a leading tactic.

The bottom line is that Ohio spends more than $1.8 billion per year on a
prison system where too many people who pose little public safety risk are incarcerated while treatment and prevention programs suffer. Issue 1 would redirect tens of millions of dollars annually in prison spending to addiction treatment and victims of crime, and that seems like a step in the right direction.

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