Over the past few years, federal and state laws have come under fire for failing to address America’s growing drug problem. The laws also seem to disproportionately target minorities. Because of this, reforms at the federal, state and local levels have involved changing how law enforcement and the larger justice system treats minor drug offenses.
In 2019, Ohio lawmakers proposed changes to how they responded to low-level drug offenses. NBC4 News reports that people voted against the first proposal to achieve this because they felt it was too broad. However, lawmakers revised the proposal and brought it before the Senate again.
The inadequacy of the old system
One public defender explained to the media company that jailing drug offenders only exacerbates the drug problem in the following ways:
- Roughly 95% of employers refuse to hire people with drug felony charges, making it difficult to seek employment.
- Offenders face jail time that is too short to provide treatment or teach marketable skills.
- Offenders face jail time that is too long for them to keep jobs and housing.
- Offenders become disconnected from beneficial support systems while in jail, no matter how long that is.
The introduction of the new system
This summer, Ohio finally passed a bill to reclassify non-violent drug-related charges as misdemeanors, instead of felonies. It passed at a whopping 25 votes to just four. This landslide achievement finally makes it possible for the legal system to move drug offenders into treatment programs instead of jails or prisons.
Many prosecutors spoke out against the bill. These individuals believed that offenders would not seek treatment without prison sentences. People who support the bill point out that if death by overdose is not enough to deter substance users, prison may not act as much of a deterrent either.