The opiate epidemic is creating a new conversation around drug policy and criminal reform efforts across the country. Opioid related overdose deaths have hit a critical point and have begun to reach traditionally unaffected communities. As communities wrestle with overburdened jails and prisons and insufficient mental health and drug treatment facilities, policymakers and the public are challenging the strategy of criminalization utilized during the last 40 years of the War on Drugs.
The State of Ohio, which is second worst in the nation for overdose deaths, is at the center of this debate. This November, Ohio voters will have the opportunity to vote on State Issue One, a ballot initiative that seeks to reduce the prison population and reinvest the savings into drug treatment and mental health services. However, some believe that criminal justice reform should be left up to the legislature.
This brief does not dive into whether or not Ohioans should vote for Issue 1, but it discusses areas where reforms could have the potential to impact the prison population and address racial disparities. Several states across the country have recently implemented policies to reduce the prison population and reverse the consequences of the War on Drugs. While this ballot initiative may represent a step in that direction, all Ohioans can and should do more to work with policymakers to ensure that we are addressing disparities at every level of the criminal justice system.