BY THE HULL HOUSE TEAM :Taylor Shook ‘20, Ambar Deleon ‘20, Kellon Patey ‘19 and Andrew Boyle ‘19

Denisonians, especially the Denison Student Union, were crucial in gathering the more than 180,000 signatures statewide to get the the Neighborhood Safety, Drug Treatment, and Rehabilitation Amendment on the ballot.

Now, we must act to ensure its passage. The October 9 registration deadline to vote in the November 8 elections is approaching rapidly. Students should register to vote in Licking County to vote yes on Issue One.

Patricia Perry, a Newark resident, coordinator for Change Addiction Now, and a homeless outreach program founder, explained why she is voting yes.

“You’ve got people in prison, doing two or three years for simple possession. [The amendment] will give them a chance at treatment, as opposed to being sent to prison. There’s no rehab in prison,” she said.

The amendment gives drug users a chance at rehabilitation, by changing four crucial factors.

First, felony charges for nonviolent possession and drug use crimes would be reclassified as misdemeanors. Trafficking charges would remain as felonies.

It applies retroactively— Licking Countians serving time on nonviolent drug charges would be released, and those who served time in the past would have felony charges reclassified as misdemeanors.

Second, it cuts off the probation-to-prison pipeline. Almost a quarter of Ohio’s inmates are incarcerated for things like missing a meeting with a parole officer due to a work commitment, doctor appointment, or inaccessibility to transportation.

The amendment would prohibit prison time as a punishment for minor parole violations, because people who are working to get their lives back on track should not be locked up.

Third, it would offer rehabilitation and safety programming for inmates to earn up to 25 percent off their sentences, because inmates investing in their own reform should earn modest sentence reductions.

Drug users do not need prison time, they need treatment and to stay close to support networks like friends, family and faith. Shifting to treatment-first-mentality instead of incarceration is crucial.

“Right now, if you give somebody six months in county jail, there’s nothing in there but church, and maybe one inmate class each week. We don’t have rehabilitation in county jails for those trying to rehabilitate,” Perry said.

The three previous measures will significantly reduce Ohio’s prison population and save taxpayers millions. In 2017, offender costs totaled more than 1.3 billion dollars, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction annual report.

“The amount of money we pay to lock people up is outrageous, it gets higher and higher every year, they should be putting that money back into the community instead of locking them up,” said Tonya Cooper, Newark resident and Think Tank on Poverty member.

If Issue One is passed, 70 percent of funds saved will be directed to the state department of mental health and addiction services, for a grant program to fund abuse treatment, programs and supports. The other 30 percent will be directed to crime victims and rehabilitation services for those in the criminal justice system.

In effect, millions of dollars will be redirected to local support and treatment programs, which reduces the reliance on incarceration to solve social ills.

Cooper was part of petition circulation efforts to get Issue One on the ballot.

She said, “I hope everyone votes for it, we need that money to get back to these people, that’s my dream and my hope, that it gets back to those people.”