"Chopping for Change" shows the power of addiction treatment
Jade and Tiffany are two Ohio women serving time in prison for drug possession and struggling with addiction. Their stories show why Ohio’s punitive approach to drug possession and addiction is not working.
Ohio spends more than $1.8 billion a year to keep as many as 50,000 people in prison. For many, like Jade and Tiffany, drug possession may be their only crime. Yet Ohio has the nation’s second-highest overdose rate with a total of 5,111 Ohioans dying of drug overdoses in 2017. It’s clear that focusing on punishment, rather than treatment, spends too much of our budget on a system that incarcerates too many Ohioans, leaves prisons overcrowded and unsafe for inmates and guards, and damages communities across the state.
Currently, Ohio lawmakers are considering two bills that together would move our state toward a more effective approach to criminal justice. Senate Bill 3 would reclassify certain low-level drug offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, while House Bill 1 would create new opportunities for treatment in lieu of conviction. Both would expand the sealing of criminal records for individuals who have served their time. (For more information see our July blog post and our May report.)
Research shows that treatment, rather than punishment, is more effective in helping people achieve long-term recovery. There are better solutions.
In Cleveland, Jade and Tiffany participated in the Chopping for Change (C4C) program run by Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry (LMM). Chopping for Change shows that an approach based in healing, rather than punishment, works. The program provides work experience and culinary training for women in the criminal justice system and helps them rejoin the workforce. This innovative partnership between LMM, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction and the Cuyahoga County Office of Re-Entry also provides participants, many of whom struggle with addiction, with trauma-informed counseling and case management to make them more likely to succeed when they get out of prison and less likely to end up back in prison.
“Chopping for Change participants want to go through treatment and get back on their feet – hanging a felony over their head will not improve their motivation,” says Ian Marks, Vice President of Workforce Development at LMM.
We’ve seen this first-hand. Many of the women in C4C have had prior drug convictions, and felonies hanging over their heads didn’t change their behavior or breed success. What breeds success is addressing trauma and providing the women with effective treatment programs either in lieu of incarceration or while incarcerated. This is the best path to getting individuals to stay sober and get back on their feet.
At LMM we provide trauma-informed therapy as part of the C4C culinary certificate program. This helps participants take ownership of their past mistakes, confront their addiction, and in doing so, helps them move forward with their lives. This change is intrinsic – and not something that would occur by simply hanging a “stick” over their heads. Rather, by addressing existing trauma and providing an opportunity to gain concrete skills, we have been able to lower recidivism rates, help women attain living wage employment and have a far more seamless reintegration to the community.
Due to long wait times, neither Jade nor Tiffany has been able to get into treatment programs at the Northeast Reintegration Center (NERC), the minimum-security prison where they have been serving their sentences. NERC, located in Cleveland, focuses on pre-release rehabilitation programming.
Faced with the lack of a treatment option, Jade started a Narcotics Anonymous program at NERC, and both have received some therapy through C4C.
Jade says that if instead of sending her to prison, the judge had chosen to send her to full residential treatment in a lock-down facility, she would be more emotionally secure as she transitions back to society.
Tiffany got sober before entering prison, but she still struggles with the root causes of her addiction. She believes that judges should prioritize treatment as the first step. Tiffany believes that if she had gone to treatment, rather than prison, that she would now be caring for her children and working, rather than spending her time incarcerated.
Jade and Tiffany prove that Ohio’s focus on incarceration is misguided. By taking such a punitive approach, policymakers are missing opportunities to make Ohio safer, keep families together, build stronger communities and boost our state’s economy. By reducing incarceration for non-violent crimes, we can free up resources for crime prevention and drug treatment and help people like Jade and Tiffany get their lives back on track.
Use the ACLU of Ohio's tool to contact members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and tell them to vote FOR both SB 3 and HB 1.