Pubdate: Mon, 10 Sep 2018
Source: Blade, The (Toledo, OH)
Copyright: 2018 The Blade
Author: Jim Provance


COLUMBUS - Mike DeWine, Ohio's attorney general and Republican
candidate for governor, on Monday denounced as "irresponsible and
dangerous" a proposed constitutional amendment to downgrade low-level,
non-violent drug felonies to misdemeanors.

He stood with prosecutors, judges, treatment center operators, and
addicts to argue that Issue 1 would remove the stick that gets addicts
into treatment as an alternative to prison time.

"This threat, carefully used by our judges, has saved thousands and
thousands of lives," Mr. DeWine said. "Issue 1 would take that away,
and thousands would remain in the grips of opioids by not getting the
treatment they need to recover. Because the truth is that some people
just don't go into treatment unless they are pushed to do it. There's
nothing humane about Issue 1."

The sole statewide question on the Nov. 6 ballot will ask voters to
reduce what are currently fourth and fifth-degree drug felonies to
misdemeanors and redirect any financial savings seen from a reduced
state prison population into treatment and crime victims' programs.

The so-called Neighborhood Safety, Drug Treatment, and Rehabilitation
Amendment takes state prison off the table as well as potentially
county jail time until the misdemeanor is the third such offense
within two years.

Mr. DeWine has been on the record in opposition to the ballot issue,
but his latest remarks were his strongest to date against it.

"Eight years of Mike DeWine's failure have given us a tripling of
opioid-related deaths and rising drug crime," said Richard Cordray,
Democratic candidate for governor and a supporter of Issue 1. "The
time for him to step up and solve this problem has long passed. Now,
he wants to play politics with the opioid epidemic as it is destroying
families and communities across Ohio.

"As governor, I will work with law enforcement to make sure drug
dealers are convicted and serve long prison sentences, while people
who need substance abuse treatment can get it in our communities," he
said. "And I will make sure that the big drug companies, who have long
bankrolled Mike DeWine's campaigns, are held accountable."

Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor, the Ohio
Association of Common Pleas Judges, prosecutors, and some lawmakers
oppose Issue 1.

They've also argued that the ballot issue would shift costs from the
state to local communities without a guaranteed source of funding and
would violate plea agreements signed off on by crime victims.

Ohio governor candidates Mike DeWine, left, and Richard Cordray have
opposing views on the drug sentencing ballot issue.

In addition to downgrading future cases, the amendment would allow
those previously convicted of these crimes to ask the courts to reduce
their own felonies to misdemeanors and adjust their sentences

Inmates could also see their sentences reduced by up to 25 percent for
participation in rehabilitation, education, or work programs while
behind bars.

Shea Frasier, 27, of Marysville, "graduated" from an Allen County drug
court after being convicted of heroin trafficking and possession
charges. She was sentenced to a court outside of her home of Union
County because her father, a judge, runs the drug court there.

She said she would not have pursued treatment if not forced to through
drug court. She's been sober for nine years, she said.

"[Issue 1] is not going to help anybody or anyone," Ms. Frasier said.
"It's like slapping a Band-Aid on a someone for a gaping wound."

Stephen JohnsonGrove, deputy director of the Ohio Justice and Policy
Center, helped to craft Issue 1.

"What Issue 1 does is prioritize treatment for people who are addicted
by requiring them to be sentenced to probation to get treatment in the
first place," he said. "If someone violates probation, and people who
are addicted do tend to cycle through several times before success,
they can be held accountable by jail - even after the first offense.

"So this notion that we're taking away all the sticks is not true and
is misguided," he said.

He also disputed the argument that the issue is an unfunded mandate on
local communities. He said the amendment would require lawmakers to
earmark all savings from not sending people to state prison for local
drug treatment, victims' programs, and drug courts.
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