Right to Life Action Coalition of Ohio urges defeat of ballot measure. It’s called by backers the “Neighborhood Safety, Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation Amendment,” which sounds wonderful. The reality of what this change to Ohio’s Constitution would bring will be anything but wonderful. The measure will be appearing on our November ballots as Issue 1. The Ohio Ballot Board, in certifying this to the ballot, requires that it appear with this title: “To Reduce Penalties for Crimes of Obtaining, Possessing, and using Illegal Drugs,” which is a much more accurate reflection of what voters are actually considering with this proposal.
The Right to Life Action Coalition of Ohio (RTLACO), a state network of pro-life and pro-family organizations, is calling on their supporters and networks to reject the ballot measure. “First of all, we should have compassion on individuals who have been caught up in the drug epidemic that is sweeping not only Ohio, but every state in the nation” stated Ed Sitter, President of the Coalition, and Executive Director of Greater Toledo Right to Life. “But we also need to protect families, reduce the number of opiate-addicted pregnant mothers, and ensure that criminals who have perpetrated violence against women aren’t granted sentence reductions because of the poor wording of this amendment.”
Issue 1 requires that a number of current felony penalties for the criminal offenses of obtaining, possessing or using illegal drugs (including methamphetamine, cocaine, LSD, heroin and fentanyl) be reduced to misdemeanors. This may also be interpreted in the future by a court to include obtaining, possessing or using certain drugs to cause abortions, which are felonies under current law. This amendment then goes even further, requiring that those who are already incarcerated for such violations have those felony convictions re-adjudicated to misdemeanor levels, and be released upon such action, regardless if that individual has served the original sentence or not. There are no provisions to assure that such individuals have gone through a rehabilitation program or any drug treatment in order to qualify for such sentencing changes.
“To seek more options for treatment and rehabilitation are good intentions. However, it takes more than intentions to make something worthwhile” noted Margie Christie, President-elect of RTLACO and assistant director of Dayton Right to Life. “Many of the penalties regarding illegal abortions could be affected by this amendment’s language, opening sentence reductions to those who perform or assist illegal late-term abortions.”
Issue 1 requires that the state or local jails and prisons give at least ½ day credit for sentence reductions for each day that incarcerated persons “participate” in rehabilitative, work or educational programming. “Upon reading this language, it is clear that ‘participating’ does not include successfully completing or even just completing any of these programs” observed Meg Wittman, RTLACO District Vice President and Executive Director of Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati. “Signing up and being in class is enough to get a sentence reduction credit. Also, we must note, nowhere in the amendment does it qualify that this is limited to or focused on drug offenders, or that any of this programming be geared toward drug abuse treatment and prevention!”
Molly Smith, first vice president of the Coalition and President of Cleveland Right to Life added “Our coalition worked very hard to make sure that assisted suicide is a felony with mandatory sentencing. This language would allow those perpetrators to qualify for sentence reductions, which is ludicrous.”
Issue 1 also prohibits any jail time (at any level) for the first two violations within 24 months. Law enforcement and addiction specialists feel that these provisions will create major problems for getting people using these drugs into a committed treatment program. It will also stymie neighborhoods who want to first and foremost move the illegal drug trade and abuse out of their neighborhoods. Often, law enforcement intervention is the only way in which many neighborhoods can find peace from the chaos of the drug epidemic.
As many drug courts use the potential of incarceration to encourage violators to agree to treatment in lieu of incarceration, it strongly appears the amendment will have a negative impact on making sure that individuals, whose additions are severe enough to lead to their engaging in criminal acts to obtain, possess or use these controlled substances, receive proper treatment to battle the addiction.
Issue 1 would also effect the ability of law enforcement to prevent additional crime by requiring that “non-violent” probation violation by offenders be responded to, not by returning the violator to incarceration, but by community service or other diversions.
“As organizations that believe that life is precious, we also believe addressing addictions that damage lives, families and communities is also an important part of a pro-life witness” concluded Sitter. “We are urging our member organizations and supporters to reject this poorly thought-out ballot measure which could harm pro-life protections in our state.”
The Right to Life Action Coalition of Ohio is an association of metropolitan, county and local pro-life organizations. RTLACO focuses on developing and strengthening local grass roots pro-life leadership, true representative governing for the statewide organization, a commitment to a consistent and holistic pro-life standard to evaluate both policies and elected officials/candidates, and collaborative engagement to develop priorities for action.
Greater Toledo Right to Life 5726 Southwyck Blvd., Ste. 120 Toledo, Ohio 43614 phone: (419)535-5800