COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio House bill giving Ohio's drug offenders a second chance is one step closer to becoming law.
What You Need To Know
- House Bill 1 would give substance abusers, under certain conditions, the chance to go to rehab instead of jail or prison and have their records sealed once their drug treatment is complete
- According to The Buckeye Institute, Ohio has been the second hardest hit state in the nation by the opioid crisis
- It costs Ohio nearly $30,000 a year per prisoner and nationally 70 percent of inmates are back in prison within three years
A bipartisan proposal, which could change the way addicts recover and get back to work, awaits a full Senate vote after passing out of committee. "It is nonsensical to just keep doing the same failed policies," said Niki Clum, a Legislative Liaison for the Office of the Ohio Public Defender.
Clum, who is also a former prosecutor, said she has seen the failures that have come from the "War on Drugs."
"The old saying, when all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail. That's what Ohio has been doing right now and it's not fixing the problem,” Clum said. “We're simply just putting nails into the coffins of Ohioans and we need to stop that.”
According to The Buckeye Institute, Ohio has been the second hardest hit state in the nation by the opioid crisis. It costs the state nearly $30,000 per year per prisoner and nationally 70 percent of inmates are back in prison within three years.
"There's this serious need for reform because the way that the state is treating these offenders right now is making it incredibly hard for them to ever rebuild their lives," said Andrew Geisler, a Legal Fellow at The Buckeye Institute.
Enter House Bill 1, which would give substance abusers, under certain conditions, the chance to go to rehab instead of jail or prison and have their records sealed once their drug treatment is complete.
"Getting some of these records sealed is really important so they can get employment and housing and government assistance if they should need it, or student loans if they should need it," said Clum.
However, Geisler said passing House Bill 1 is not enough to solve the problem because it only addresses the front and back end. He said Senate Bill 3, which would change drug possession offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, takes care of the time in between.
"When you reclassify from felonies to misdemeanors, you ensure that in this intermediate stage, where somebody's in this probation program or somebody's in the drug court or things like that, that they have a meaningful opportunity to find work and a meaningful opportunity to work is one of the best sort of indicators of a treatment outcome," said Geisler.
Senate Bill 3 has not yet been recommended for a full House vote. House Bill 1 passed unanimously out of the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. With the holidays approaching, this week could be the final chance for this general assembly to change the criminal justice system.
"This is a huge problem and people are dying and bills like this move us in the right direction but there's a lot more work to do, and there's a lot more compassion and empathy that need to happen not just in the legislature but throughout Ohio," said Clum.
In a statement, Rep. Phil Plummer (R-Dayton), who is a primary co-sponsor of House Bill 1, said "The criminal justice system is in need of reform to properly address the drug addiction epidemic. By expanding opportunities for treatment and employment, House Bill 1 will help those struggling with addiction to become productive members of society. I look forward to seeing this bipartisan legislation get across the finish line and signed into law."
Rep. Paula Hicks-Hudson (D-Toledo) also released this statement:
“I am grateful for the unanimous vote (last week) by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee as we continue our promise to give Ohioans a second chance at turning their lives around. This bill is truly one of the pillars for criminal justice reform as we look to address the link between drug addiction and the criminal justice system."