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Discussing criminal justice reform: One year after defeat of Issue 1

Senate President Larry Obhof, left, Rep. Phil Plummer, ACLU lobbyist Gary Daniels, Sen. John Eklund, Ohio Dept. of Health Medical Director Mark Hurst, Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and OSU Professor Doug Berman sit on the panel at a recent one-day workshop that brought proponents and opponents of Issue 1 to the table for the first time since the measure was defeated in November 2018. (Photo courtesy of the Ohio Supreme Court).

Supreme Court
Public Information Office

Published: December 5, 2019

Lawmakers, jurists and other stakeholders recently met to discuss strategies on how Ohio can be on the forefront of criminal justice reform.
The Ohio Criminal Sentencing Commission, an affiliated office of the Ohio Supreme Court, co-hosted the one-day workshop featuring several panel discussions, which brought proponents and opponents of Issue 1 to the table for the first time since the measure was defeated in November 2018.
Issue 1, which would have changed the Ohio Constitution by reducing drug possession offenses to misdemeanors, was crushed by Ohio voters by a 2-1 margin, with 63 percent of voters voting no.
Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, who sat on two panels, said she fully supports the current House Bill 1. The legislation would expand intervention in lieu of conviction, seek less prison time for nonviolent drug offenders, and expand access for those who want to seal their criminal records.
“We have a drug epidemic in this state. It has made defendants out of people who otherwise may not have been defendants,” Chief Justice O’Connor told the workshop. “It’s because of their addiction. We can’t throw them away. It’s a lack of programming and lack of treatment in prison.”
“I would be in favor of building a new prison if that new prison would treat drug- addicted inmates and treat the drug addicted like they do at the Betty Ford clinic. There ought to be resources in our prison system that’s going to give them top-of-the line drug treatment. You want them to leave clean, educated, and motivated,” she said.
Ohio state Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, doesn’t agree with sending those who are addicted back to prison based on a technical parole violation.
“Where I come from, just because somebody hasn’t passed a urine test doesn’t mean they should be sent back to prison,” Seitz argued. “Addiction is a long thing to overcome. What we have to do is build up the local probation and parole infrastructure. We have way too many people being supervised by too few people.”
“What people need is a pathway towards treatment,” Shakyra Diaz, with the Alliance for Safety and Justice. “What they don’t need is to be saddled with additional barriers.”
Panel members included legislators, the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, the ACLU, the Buckeye Institute, the Alliance for Safety and Justice, and others involved in criminal justice reform efforts.