Columbus,_OH_Statehouse (1)

Ohio’s Senate bill 3 continues to proceed through hearings in the House, following its overwhelming passage in the Senate earlier this year. This has been a long process, and the bill deserves to get over the finish line before session ends, and a new session begins next year.

The bill would reduce many nonviolent drug offenses from a felony down to a misdemeanor, divert more addicts to treatment rather than just incarceration, and expand expungement so people are better able to get back on their feet.

While some opponents continue to bring up concerns about the impact on drug abuse should SB3 pass, the bill remains a conservative, tough and smart approach. A Pew research study found no correlation between imprisonment rates and rates of drug use. And a recent Buckeye Institute paper thoroughly puts concerns to bed:

“According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), a prison sentence has little, if any, deterrent effect on future drug use by nonviolent drug offenders. The study found that “On average, incarceration in the United States costs approximately $22,000 per month, and there is little evidence that this strategy reduces drug use or drug-related re-incarceration rates for nonviolent drug offenders. … “A separate study of 15 states (including Ohio) by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that one-quarter of individuals incarcerated for drug crimes returned to prison within three years.”.

The reality is that the current system does little to improve the situation with drug addiction, and makes it worse by not addressing addiction while tagging people with life-altering criminal convictions that make finding work and building a life more difficult.

This is why prison alternatives should be strongly considered. Senate bill 3 could give those struggling a second chance to get back on track rather than send them into a negative feedback spiral.

Further Senate Bill 3 remains bad news for dangerous drug dealers. Mandatory minimums and strict enforcement would still be intact for high-level traffickers and offenders.

Getting these low level offenders out of the prison system could be prudent way to help Ohio’s already overcrowded prisons. The main focus is on reducing crime and helping individuals but, the fiscal benefits from this bill can’t be ignored. The Ohio legislative services commission estimates this bill could save the state $75 million per year.

The House and Governor DeWine should act swiftly to get SB3 passed and signed before the year is out. It would be a step towards reducing the size and scope of government power by administering proportional justice to nonviolent offenders, and reducing the need for government spending on prisons.