Policy Matters Ohio urges sentencing reform through a stronger Senate Bill 3
Posted May 13, 2019 in Press Releases
Policy Matters Ohio today released an analysis of Senate Bill 3, a new effort by the Ohio legislature to reform sentencing in our state’s justice system. The bill seeks to provide addiction treatment instead of incarceration to Ohioans charged with the possession of certain drugs. As introduced, SB 3 would reclassify some low-level drug offenses from felonies to misdemeanors.
“This is an important reform for Ohio,” said Amy Hanauer, Policy Matters executive director. “It would provide treatment for some Ohioans who would otherwise face time in prison.”
Exceptions in the bill, however, would exclude many Ohioans who could benefit from these reforms. It would not apply to possession of fentanyl, drugs laced with fentanyl, or listed drugs that can incapacitate a victim before sexual assault, nor would it include those convicted on low-level drug charges more than once in a three-year period. SB 3 also would continue to give local courts wide discretion on sentencing, allowing judges to still send people to prison in many cases.
“These provisions in the law defy national research suggesting that meaningful sentencing reform must be as broad as possible and include more direct policy guidance and rules for local courts,” said Hanauer. “We would like to see a stronger bill that more meaningfully reduces our prison population, brings down costs related to over-incarceration, reduces addiction and really helps our communities.”
The analysis found that deeper reform would allow more treatment, which is more effective than locking people up, and does more to heal communities. Policy Matters estimates that more comprehensive reform would save approximately $226 million. Because impacts of SB 3 are unclear, the group could not estimate an amount it would save, but it is certain to be far less.
“We applaud the Senate’s effort, but we urge a broader approach that will have a much greater impact,” said Hanauer. “We can’t miss the opportunity to take a much bolder next step.”
Policy Matters Ohio outlines key principles for meaningful reform, which the research institute refers to as the “Five Rs”:
- Reclassify low-level drug possession as a misdemeanor;
- Retroactively apply reclassification to include communities over-targeted by past drug wars;
- Reform the probation-to-prison pipeline for Ohioans who violate probation in ways that are not crimes;
- Reduce sentences for Ohioans who participate in educational, behavioral, and treatment programs;
- Reemploy Ohioans by reducing job barriers for those who’ve served their time.