The Highland County Drug Abuse Prevention Coalition will hear Thursday from a representative from the Ohio Justice & Policy Center about a proposed amendment to the Ohio Constitution aimed at reducing the state’s prison population and funding social services and justice system reform.
Coalition President Heather Gibson said Tuesday that Stephen JohnsonGrove, an attorney and deputy director of policy at the Ohio Justice & Policy Center, will speak to the coalition about the amendment, which is still in the petition process.
According to a summary of the amendment, measures to decrease the state’s prison population would be put in place that would save the state an estimated $100 million per year, which would then be distributed to drug treatment programs for offenders, trauma recovery programs for victims and justice system reform in local communities.
“We’re finding pretty conservative and mild ways to safely shrink the prison population,” JohnsonGrove told The Times-Gazette on Tuesday. “We will shift the money out of the prison budget and into drug treatment and trauma recovery… It’s a really simple but big-picture shift away from incarcerating human beings and toward healing.”
According to the outline, the amendment would reclassify fourth- and fifth-degree felony drug possession charges as misdemeanor offenses, making them no longer eligible for prison time as a penalty. Drug trafficking felonies would remain felonies.
Such plans have often raised concerns from authorities in local jurisdictions that misdemeanor offenders end up in local jails, which are already over-crowded and underfunded.
The amendment expands Ohio’s current earned-credit program and incentivizes prisoners to improve themselves by offering one day off their sentence for every two days they participate in prison programs. The earned credit would be capped at 25 percent of the total sentence, and would not be available to prisoners serving sentences for murder, rape or child molestation, according to the outline.
The amendment would also prohibit prison time for probation violations that are not new felonies or misdemeanors, and expand local probation departments’ authority.
Seventy percent of the state’s savings would be distributed to drug treatment programs, with 15 percent to trauma programs and 15 percent to local justice system reform initiatives.
JohnsonGrove said organizers are in the process of collecting 500,000 signatures for the issue to be placed on the ballot in November.
The lawyer said he hopes the amendment creates a “positive feedback loop” that will increase safety and reduce crime throughout the state.
“We’re trying to do a pretty big turn of the ship in a new direction,” he said.
According to biographical information on the OJPC’s website, JohnsonGrove received his J.D. cum laude from Temple University Beasley School of Law in 2001, and his B.A. in Philosophy and Political Science with honors from The Pennsylvania State University in 1997.
He has worked for the OJPC since 2005.
According to its website, the Ohio Justice & Policy Center’s mission is to create fair, intelligent, redemptive criminal-justice systems through client-centered advocacy, innovative policy reform, and cross-sector community education.
For more information on the OJPC, visit www.ohiojpc.org.
The meeting will be held at noon this Thursday, March 22, in the conference room of the Highland County Health Department, 1487 N. High Street, in Hillsboro.
The group will also hear from Roger Winemiller about his experiences with the opioid crisis and its affect on his family’s farm in Clinton County.
The Highland County Drug Abuse Prevention Coalition is a group of law enforcement officials, mental health and drug treatment service providers, people of faith and concerned citizens who meet monthly to exchange ideas on how to reduce drug abuse in Highland County.
The group normally meets at noon every fourth Thursday of the month in the main conference room at the North High Business Center.
The coalition can be found on Facebook by searching “Highland County Drug Abuse Prevention Coalition.”
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.