With millions being spent promoting Ohio’s State Issue 1, a group of Mahoning County judges and a man who went through drug court are trying to push a grassroots effort to encourage voters to say “no.”
“Don’t just look at the ads,” Judge Rob Rusu said. “They’re not going to give you the true meaning, the true facts. Do the research yourself.”
Issue 1 is the proposal to amend Ohio’s constitution, converting low-level nonviolent felony drug possession cases to misdemeanors. That means most offenders would never face prison time if they didn’t get treatment.
“I will just speak from experience. We’re going to lose the ability to help people, not the ability to punish people,” Judge Anthony D’Apolito said.
Victor DePrille does not sit on the judge’s bench.
“I need consequences. I need somebody to put the brakes on me,” he said.
DePrille was charged in a drug-related robbery in 2014.
“I’m not the most political person but one thing I can offer is my experience through this,” he said.
He entered Mahoning County’s Drug Court and while he eventually graduated and his charges were dismissed, the threat of prison time was a big motivator.
“I also knew that there was a major consequence hanging over my head had I not stayed sober,” DePrille said.
A review of Issue 1 by the governor’s Office of Budget and Management shows that of the state’s 50,000 inmates, about 1,600 were sent to prison just for low-level possession cases over the last year. That would only be reduced by 300 within two years if the amendment is passed.
Supporters insist the number is closer to 4,000.
“We absolutely believe that $100 million a year, minimum, will be saved by just removing nonviolent low-level offenders,” Dennis Willard said.
The “yes” campaign’s website says “it’s time to stop wasting prison space on people convicted of nonviolent crimes and people that are no longer a threat to public safety.”
It says Issue 1 would additionally give people a chance to earn credit to rehabilitate themselves and direct all prison cost savings to local drug treatment programs.
Supporters and opponents alike believe the fate of Issue 1 will depend on turnout between now and when the polls close on election night.