Legislators have heard us loud and clear: We want real reform that safely decarcerates Ohio’s overcrowded prisons and recognizes Ohio cannot incarcerate its way out of the drug epidemic.

In the first six months of the 133rd General Assembly, OJPC has been a force for change in the legislature. We’re pleased to see a number of bills making their way through the legislature, including two bills that directly address overcrowding in prisons and jails. We have known for many years that addiction should be addressed as a health issue. The good news is legislators are beginning to make changes that provide for treatment — not incarceration.

State lawmakers are also coming to the conclusion there are too many barriers to employment, housing and a person’s ability to move on from mistakes of the past.

Record sealing, intervention in lieu of conviction and drug reclassification are buzz words in the hallways of the capital! Change is coming and OJPC is thrilled to be at the heart of it all.

Update: Ohio House passes HB 1 by vote of 90-6

HB 1 is a positive step forward toward steering individuals with drug and alcohol addiction away from prisons and jails. Why is this so important? For starters, people with drug and alcohol issues have been thrown in Ohio jails for years after offenses related to their addiction.

HB 1 expands Ohio’s laws on intervention in lieu of conviction. It allows people struggling with drug and alcohol abuse to affirmatively raise their substance abuse issues to a court so they may enter programs for treatment instead of jail and lengthy prison terms.

HB 1 also vastly expands criminal-record sealing for nonviolent crimes with no caps on the numbers of offenses that can be sealed. In addition, the bill shortens the time periods when a person is eligible to seek record sealing. The clients coming to OJPC’s Second Chance Legal Clinics (and people with criminal records across Ohio) are often barred from basic necessities like job opportunities and housing as a direct result of past criminal convictions.

Update: SB 3 moving in Senate Judiciary Committee

After our long and hard-fought work on Issue 1, state leaders recognized our ideas are good public policy. SB 3 is a drug sentencing reform bill that reclassifies low level drug-related felonies into misdemeanors.

Why does that matter? It makes a huge difference in whether someone is sent to prison or not. A person convicted of a felony will end up incarcerated while a misdemeanor does not automatically translate to a prison term. SB 3 also aims to steer people away from prison by increasing the possession amounts before a person can be charged with drug trafficking.

HB 1 and SB 3 individually do not do enough to address overcrowded prisons and the need for drug treatment. Lawmakers should take the most effective parts of each bill and compromise by merging them into one bill. While HB 1 expands access to record sealing and ILC, SB 3 reclassifies drug crimes to steer people away from lengthy prison terms and high-level criminal records. It’s time for legislators to come together and see each bill can be made better by incorporating each into one highly impactful reform.