The Ohio Organizing Collaborative, a network organization in Ohio, has proposed a ballot initiative in our state that will reform the criminal justice system and reinvest millions into drug treatment and recovery programs. The group is seeking signatures to place the initiative on the fall ballot. You can learn more about OOC and the initiative here.
While the Ohio Bishops do not take a position until an initiative actually is on the ballot, the 4 proposals set forth by the Collaborative are certainly in line with the Church’s teaching on criminal justice reform and reentry.
In short, the proposed amendment would do the following:
1. Reclassify drug possession felonies as misdemeanors so that those convicted of the lesser offense of possessing drugs and/or drug paraphernalia would have better access to rehabilitation programs. This applies to possession only; all drug trafficking (dealing) felonies would remain felonies.
2. Almost 1 in 4 people coming to Ohio prisons each year are being sent to prison for probation violations – not new crimes. This proposed legislation would exclude incarceration as punishment for probation rule infractions thus allowing those in recovery to remain in rehabilitation.
3. Expand the ability of current inmates to earn modest sentence reductions for participating in quality rehabilitation and recovery programming. Data suggests that results improve when inmates are incentivized, even slightly, for participation.
4. Reinvest the projected savings from the above three reforms into local treatment and support programs for youth and adults.
Beginning April 28th, you will have the opportunity to add your signature to the petition to place the Ohio Neighborhood Safety, Drug Treatment, and Rehabilitation Amendment on the November ballot. Learn about the amendment and the proposed benefits. If you believe it would be valuable to place the amendment before the voters in November, please sign the petition after Mass next weekend. You must be a registered voter to sign.
In a 2013 homily to politicians, Pope Francis remarked that “A good Catholic meddles in politics, offering the best of himself – so that those who govern can govern.” He went on to say that the best we have to offer is prayer, and we should pray for drug addicts and those who minister to them. Pray also for our judges, prosecutors and corrections officers as well.
It is clear that our current system of mass incarceration for drug offenders is not working; we need reform. Whether it is this proposal or something else, may you be a positive voice for change.