New Policy Matters analysis shows health benefits of sentencing reforms
Posted June 25, 2020 in Press Releases
Today, leaders in public health, community organizing and drug treatment joined Policy Matters Ohio to unveil an analysis that shows how sentencing reform would improve public health. View a recording of the call here. The report comes after the Ohio Senate failed to advance Senate Bill 3 yesterday. The bill, which has languished in the Senate Judiciary Committee for more than a year, would reclassify certain drug possession crimes from felonies to misdemeanors and promote treatment rather than incarceration.
The analysis provides a new tool for state lawmakers. The “health note” framework developed by The Pew Charitable Trusts encourages policymakers to study and prioritize the health effects of all legislation. Policy Matters studied SB 3 and House Bill 1, a complementary bill that would expand treatment in lieu of conviction for people charged with drug possession. Both would strengthen record sealing. The House passed HB 1 last summer and it awaits action in the Senate.
The report shows the bills would reduce the number of people sent to prison for drug crimes, which is particularly important as COVID-19 has spread through Ohio’s prisons over the past several months, killing 86 incarcerated people and five prison staff.
"Our analysis shows that reforms state lawmakers are considering would improve the wellbeing of Ohioans and their communities,” said Piet van Lier, researcher for Policy Matters Ohio. “They could save lives by reducing the prison population as the COVID-19 death toll continues to rise behind bars.”
SB 3 and HB 1 would help people convicted of some drug crimes by removing barriers to housing, employment and public assistance. That would help them support themselves and their families, and contribute to their communities.
Maurice Marbury of Cleveland spent 18 years in prison. He said he couldn’t find a job, but his parole officer told him that if he didn’t find one, he would be sent back to jail.
“This is a mental and an emotional situation that causes us to recidivize because I have no other means but to do what I used to do in order to live and survive,” said Marbury, a leader with the Ohio Organizing Collaborative.
The bills would decrease drug use by providing people with more treatment. Over time the bills would also improve mental health of people with past drug convictions by helping them get back on their feet, the report shows. The Y-Haven program in Cleveland offers an example of alternatives to incarceration for people with substance use disorder. A branch of the Cleveland YMCA, Y-Haven is a 250-bed facility that provides temporary housing and drug and alcohol treatment to people recently released from prison and people experiencing homelessness. Thomas Calloway is a resident at Y-Haven’s Open Door program, which provides people returning from prison or jail with treatment and a place to live for up to 18 months. Residents who finish the program can continue to get care through outpatient treatment.
“This program here, Open Doors, was probably the best thing that ever happened to me,” he said. “I think more programs should be available for people going to jail with drugs, whatever the case may be, knowing they got a habit. The problem is still there. What are they going to do when they get out?”
Officials from the Ohio Public Health Association (OPHA) said Marbury and Calloway’s experiences show the importance of external factors in determining how healthy a person is.
“When we look at our…policies around incarceration we know the potential impact of level of charge and incarceration on employment and housing,” said Carla Hicks, Co-Chair of OPHA’s Health and Equity in All Policies Committee. “So health notes provide a way to assess and potentially avoid this vicious cycle before it starts.”
“We need to look harder at many of our policies through a health lens,” added OPHA president Robert Jennings. “It is almost a given that policies that negatively impact businesses and the economy won’t see the light of day. The question is, why aren’t we doing the same for our health?”