In the midst of election season, Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor spoke at the Supreme Court of Ohio Specialized Dockets Annual Conference Thursday to urge people to vote down Ohio Issue 1.
The initiative, according to Ballotpedia, would reclassify low-level drug possession offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, reducing the amount of people in state prison for low-level crimes.
O’Connor raised several points against Issue 1, challenging its purpose and emphasizing the importance of drug courts in substance addicts’ recovery.
“On its surface, Issue 1 looks progressive,” she said. “It purports to help addicts by reducing drug possession penalties, but it’s actually regressive and would impede the success of an addict when that person is involved with the criminal justice system.”
O’Connor added that Issue 1 would take away the ability for judges to sentence felons to jail, and would make it less likely for them to receive the treatment they need through drug court programs.
“Judges cannot put substance abuse individuals into incarceration if they don’t have that stick to use,” she said. “There will be little to no participation because there’s no incentive to go to drug treatment.”
In addition to reclassifying drug possession offences, Issue 1 also proposes to create a credit program based on inmates’ participation in rehabilitation programs. Based on the number of credits inmates receive, they could then be eligible to a 25 percent reduction in their sentence.
However, O’Connor stressed that the courts don’t have enough resources to follow through on that proposal.
“You’re incentivizing people to vote for Issue 1 because they have a loved one in the institution and they hear they can get 25 percent off of their sentencing if they go to programming, if they go to treatment, or if they go to work inside the institution,” she said. “There’s not enough programming work or treatment inside the institution to allow for the capacity of their promising.”
Ed Miller, director of public information for the Supreme Court of Ohio, said that specialized court dockets, such as drug courts, involve a level of proficiency and aim to impact the lives of addicted felons by fostering relationships and treatment for both the individuals, as well as their families.
“The real point of it is it allows judges and their staff to be experts and to dive deeper into areas that will help people recover from [their] problems,” he said.
As an alternative to Issue 1, O’Connor urged on the work done by those, such as judges, magistrates and court staff, who work closely with substance addicts apart of the drug court system.
“It takes a special court to do these kinds of things, and also a special judge magistrate administrator and staff member and team member to reach these heights and serve our communities,” she said.
O’Connor challenged the comparison made between people suffering from addiction, and those suffering from other diseases. She said that drug addiction is different than other diseases because it results in the act of a crime and should therefore be treated differently.
“Diabetics don’t steal in order to get their insulin,” she said. “They don’t break into people’s cars and homes and all the other activity that someone who’s suffering from substance abuse disorder does in order to feed their habit.”