Ohio’s Issue 1, which proposed significant criminal-justice reforms to Ohio’s constitution, failed by a large margin in Ohio. That includes Athens County where the issue lost 42.74 percent to 57.26 percent (9,077 votes to 12,162 votes).
Statewide, Issue 1 failed by an even wider margin, 36.6 percent to 63.4 percent (1,568,347 “yes” votes, 2,716,958 “no” votes), despite support from Democratic governor candidate Richard Cordray (who also lost). The proposed amendment would have drastically reduced penalties for drug possession by making those crimes a misdemeanor instead of a felony, mandated no prison time for those convicted of misdemeanor-level possession crimes, and redirected savings from reduced incarcerations toward expanded drug-addiction recovery treatment.
Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn, who had proposed an alternative to Issue 1, called Ohio’s Fresh Start said Wednesday that he’s glad that Issue 1 did not pass.
“But I hope we do get reform. I think Ohio’s Fresh Start is a great start to that, and I look forward to having conversations with those in power who can make those types of changes,” Blackburn said. “… It’s good to know that the voters trusted the people who told them it was a bad idea. I take the support I’ve gotten from voters very seriously, and hope we can work to get a reform that will work for all of Ohio.”
Andrea Reany, a Nelsonville resident who had campaigned for Issue 1, said that the issue not passing is a “huge disappointment” and a “loss for people suffering from addiction and wrongful incarceration.”
“I believe false information, fear of change, and misplaced faith in a broken and racist criminal-justice system created this result,” Reany said Wednesday. “Although thousands of people devoted themselves to passing the issue for the last nine months with the intent of making real change, not just starting a conversation, I know that we will not stop demanding more and better treatment opportunities, putting an end to making criminals out of people who need medical help, and creating just alternatives to an incredibly punitive society, where instead people are valued for their humanity and capacity to change.”
Other states have passed initiatives similar to Issue 1 to reduce the incarceration of low-level drug offenders.
Blackburn’s Fresh Start initiative proposed changing the legal wording for drug-related crimes and providing judges and district attorney/prosecutors with a “flexible and hybrid set of sentencing guidelines,” according to a previous news release.
OFS features two main initiatives, according to the release. First, the initiative proposes to create a new offense under Ohio Revised Code called “possession of harmful drugs.” Second, the initiative proposes that individuals convicted of drug-related crimes be sentenced to hybrid sentences involving community control or “alternative dispositions” for addiction offenses, and “prison or community control” for other, unrelated sentences.
Blackburn previously has noted that his office already has a Vivitrol and drug recovery counseling treatment program that people can be placed on in lieu of prison time.