Ohio House votes to expand drug treatment options for offenders

The Ohio House voted 90-6 in favor of a criminal justice reform bill that would expand options for drug treatment rather than a conviction for offenders struggling with addiction.

The Ohio prison system incarcerates about 2,600 people for drug possession, including 1,600 for low-level amounts. The idea behind House Bill 1 is to help people deal with their addictions that drive criminal behavior.

Courts would still have discretion over which offenders would be given treatment in lieu of conviction and the option would not be available for more serious, violent or sexual crimes.

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If the bill becomes law, it would also expand options for sealing criminal records: letting people ask courts to do so earlier and allowing people with misdemeanors or low-level felonies to close off their records, regardless of how many convictions they have. Advocates say this will make it easier for people with records to get jobs.

HB1 is sponsored by state Reps Paula Hudson Hicks, D-Toledo and Phil Plummer, R-Butler Twp., the former Montgomery County sheriff. And it is supported by the ACLU of Ohio and Americans for Prosperity - Ohio.

Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor earlier this year called on lawmakers to expand treatment in lieu of convictions and records sealing.

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Ohio Public Defender Tim Young said in testimony on the bill “Unequivocally the war on drugs is a failure. Opioids, meth, and cocaine continue to ravage Ohio. It is clear that Ohio will not incarcerate its way out of this crisis. We need a new approach.”

He said that incarceration of addicts is more expensive and less effective than providing drug treatment.

In the Ohio Senate, lawmakers are considering a different drug sentencing reform bill that would re-classify some low-level drug possession felonies to misdemeanors and expand drug treatment options.

Senate Bill 3 would also increase the threshold drug possession amounts for aggravated trafficking charges and increase the amount of marijuana or hash needed before someone would face severe penalties.

SB3 is pending in the judiciary committee and is supported by ACLU Ohio, Americans for Prosperity, Ohio Public Defender and several other groups. It is opposed by sheriffs, prosecutors and police chiefs.

Miami Valley lawmakers Jena Powell, R-Arcanum, and Kyle Koehler, R-Springfield, were among the six voting against the bill.

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