LIMA — “Misleading.”
“Ill-conceived” and “dangerous.”
Beneficial only to “the worst of the worst” with alleged cost-savings that are “substantially over-stated.”
Allen County Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffrey Reed minced few words Thursday in his opposition to State Issue 1, a proposed amendment to the Ohio constitution that will decided by voters in the Nov. 6 general election.
The judge’s assessment came during a standing-room-only news conference held inside a Lima courtroom. The room was full of law enforcement professionals, firefighters, judges, prosecutors and elected officials from throughout Allen County who had gathered to show unity in opposition to State Issue 1.
The proposed constitutional amendment would, among other provisions, reduce the criminal charge for the possession of any drug or controlled substance from a low-level felony, as is now the case, to a simple misdemeanor. Non-violent offenders convicted of drug possession would no longer be sent to prison or jail, which supporters say would free up jail space and save taxpayers millions of dollars annually. Those funds, in turn, would be used to expand and enhance substance abuse treatment facilities across the state, according to ballot language for Issue 1.
“I have been in the criminal justice system for 35 years,” Reed told the assembled crowd, “and I’ve lived through a lot of changes in the laws and to sentencing guidelines. But in all my years, Issue 1 is by far the most ill-conceived and dangerous law I’ve ever seen.”
Calling any attempt to amend the Ohio constitution a “big deal,” Reed said Issue 1 would — if approved — take away the discretion Ohio judges currently have in dealing with drug-related cases and would also remove incentives for persons ordered to undergo drug treatment programs to follow through with that treatment.
“Issue 1 completely wipes out any incentive for people to commit to their sobriety,” the judge said.
Reed said claims from Issue 1 supporters that the proposed amendment would save Ohio millions of dollars annually upon its passage are simply false. He cited an analysis written by the non-partisan Ohio Office of of Budget and Management that said claims of massive cost-savings by the Ohio prison system are “substantially over-stated.”
“The OBM concludes that there are no significant cost savings and that costs could actually increase and will trickle down to Ohio counties and municipalities,” Reed said.
“Issue 1 is going to benefit drug dealers and drug traffickers — the worst of the worst,” the judge said. “If approved it would make drugs easier to possess and would be a disaster to the drug rehabilitation community. We don’t generally sent low-level felons to prison anyway. But we do need the threat of a felony charge to hold over their heads” to force those who most need drug treatment to participate in the court-ordered programming, the judge said.
Reed also said claims from supporters of Issue 1 that judges would retain the ability to require defendants to take part in drug treatment options is also false. “There’s nothing in the language that allows judges to force people into treatment,” he said.
Allen County Prosecuting Attorney Juergen Waldick was equally blunt, telling the crowd, “State Issue 1 is a killer.”
He said a provision of the proposed amendment that calls for a 25 percent reduction in prison sentences for persons incarcerated for all crimes except murder, rape or child molestation would put dangerous criminals back on the streets of local communities but would do little to help rehabilitate persons addicted to drugs.
“We are already helping addicts. Non-violent, low-level drug addicts are already being treated, and Issue 1 is completely counter-productive to what we’re trying to do,” Waldick said. “It undermines the treatment that is now being given.”
Waldick said many of Ohio’s leading newspapers have gone on record against Issue 1, as have numerous statewide professional groups.
He urged those in attendance at Thursday’s event to “spread the word that this is a very, very bad idea.”