State Issue 1 debaters square off on Vindy.com
By DAVID SKOLNICK
Proponents and opponents of state Issue 1 spent about 90 minutes Wednesday on Vindy.com debating the proposed constitutional amendment that seeks to reduce criminal penalties for nonviolent drug offenders.
The proponents said the current criminal justice system unfairly punishes low-level, nonviolent criminals and this issue would rectify that as well as put money saved on incarcerating them into drug treatment and helping crime victims.
Opponents strongly disagreed saying possession or use of deadly drugs such as fentanyl and heroin would result in probation and undermines treatment for addiction.
Shakyra Diaz, managing director of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, and Stephen JohnsonGrove, deputy director for policy at the Ohio Justice & Policy Center are in favor of the measure, which will be on the Nov. 6 ballot.
• HERE AN ANALYSIS ON ISSUE 1 IMPACT FROM POLICY MATTERS OHIO
JohnsonGrove said the savings by diverting people from prison for these offenses would save at least $100 million a year that would go to addiction treatment.
Opposing Issue 1 were Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Mahoning County Common Pleas Court Judge John Durkin.
Judge Durkin said, “Any proclaimed savings is pure speculation.”
Chief Justice O’Connor said passage of Issue 1 would give Ohio the “most lax drug possession laws in the country.”
JohnsonGrove said that is false as there are 11 other states with similar drug laws and “the sky hasn’t fallen.”
Chief Justice O’Connor said the issue is a “scattergun approach without direction” and much of it is “up to interpretation.”
The issue reduces sentences for violent offenders and undermines treatment, she said.
JohnsonGrove said it’s not true that if passed, Issue 1 would keep people with large quantities of fentanyl from being criminal prosecuted.
“Issue 1 says low-level, nonviolent drug offenders will not be in state prisons,” he said, and that making prison a response to drug addiction “is self-destructive.”
Diaz added: “We can’t incarcerate ourselves out of this problem. We need other options.”
But Judge Durkin said the language in the issue is “confusing.”
The issue proposes to reclassify fourth- and fifth-degree-felony drug possession and drug use crimes to first-degree misdemeanors, thus removing the potential for prison time for those convicted. The only time a person could be sent to prison for that is a third conviction in a 24-month period.
Chief Justice O’Connor said the proposal makes the possession of fentanyl in amounts less than 20 grams a misdemeanor with probation as the maximum sentence. She said 19 grams of fentanyl could kill about 10,000 people.
She also said of the nearly 50,000 inmates in the state’s prisons, only 2,700 are there on fourth- and fifth-degree felonies and not all of them are there for drug possession and use, so this issue gives a false impression.
The event, which aired live on Vindy.com, was sponsored and hosted by The Vindicator. It was the first such debate between supporters and opponents of Issue 1 in the state.
For those who missed the debate, it will remain on Vindy.com to view at your convenience.