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Op-Ed: Anyone who is drowning and asks for a life vest deserves a life vest


This Op-Ed was written by David Singleton for The Cincinnati Herald. 

So many of our friends and loved ones across our community are treading water—and even drowning —in the sea of addiction and incarceration. Our criminal justice, prison and drug treatment system can’t address the needs of those who want help, and that must change.

How will Issue 1 accomplish all that?


Fortunately, that can change with Issue 1. If passed on November 6, Issue 1 will offer treatment instead of prison. It will make treatment available for those struggling with addiction who ask for help and who are willing to commit to getting better. It will stop the probation-to-prison pipeline and it will incentivize healing and self-improvement in prison. Issue 1 also offers long-term solutions to make sure our friends and loved ones who overcome addiction remain drug free, out of prison, and productive citizens for the long term.

Issue 1 reduces the number of people in state prison for low-level, nonviolent drug possession crimes and puts the money to better use by directing future savings to drug treatment and victim services. (It does not change laws or funding for incarcerating people convicted of serious crimes such as murder, rape, and child molestation.)

Issue 1 puts the focus on treatment instead of prison and gives our friends and loved ones a second chance to live a productive life. It is well known that those who struggle with addiction and go without treatment can cycle in and out of prison, getting worse and not better. These individuals sometimes commit crimes to support that addiction, but prison for non-violent individuals is not the answer. People need ongoing treatment and help. Without treatment, the vicious cycle of drug addiction and prison continues to repeat itself.

The remnants of the War on Drugs and broken prison system is destroying lives, families and communities. Families are torn apart—both emotionally and physically—when someone is incarcerated. Our children are at the risk of being separated from their parents and put into a child welfare system; other loved ones take on the physical and emotional toll associated with addiction and incarceration. Issue 1 keeps families together and promotes the stability and preservation of families and neighborhoods.

The time to act is now. For far too long, Black families and communities have been ripped apart by our punitive criminal justice system. Our friends and loved ones have struggled for help, only to be offered a jail cell instead of the life vest of treatment.

It’s clear that approach isn’t working. Last year, more than 13 Ohioans died each day because of unintentional drug overdoses. Every year, the number’s higher than the year before – last year a 39% increase over 2016. Montgomery County had the state’s highest rate of accidental overdose deaths in 2017, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

The situation is even bleaker if you are African American or Latino. For every white adult in an Ohio prison or jail, there are more than six black people and nearly two Latino people in prison or jail. Ohio’s adult prison population is 49% black, while the state’s black population is a mere 12%.

I can’t stand by any longer and let our friends and family die or go to prison because of their struggles with addiction. Let’s throw our friends and loved ones a life vest by voting YES on Issue 1 on November 6.

Issue 1 has been endorsed by the NAACP, the Ohio Black Legislative Caucus, 360 United Christian Church congregations across the state, and Springfield-native recording artist John Legend, among others.

Here are five reasons why I am voting YES on Issue 1 November 6th:

1. Treatment works. Prison doesn’t. Evidence shows incarceration doesn’t work for people struggling with addiction, yet 1,500 people are thrown in jail each year in Ohio for drug possession offenses. More than 4,000 people enter prison for minor violations of the terms of their county probation, many of whom were placed on probation for drug-related offenses. Non- violent drug offenders are crowding our prison when they could be going to treatment.

2. A felony record can keep you from getting a job. Ohio has more than 1,000 laws that limit what people can do if they’ve been convicted of a crime, even after they’ve paid their debt to society. These laws make it harder to get specific jobs, housing, educational grants, and have a secure future. Issue 1 would change low-level nonviolent simple drug possession crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, and would permit people who have been convicted of these crimes long ago to ask a court to reclassify the felony to a misdemeanor retroactively. Under Issue I, a drug possession conviction would no longer be a life sentence.

3. It will save money. Ohio’s prison system costs $1.8 billion a year, but it doesn’t fully rehabilitate individuals to allow them to return to communities healed and unlikely to recommit a crime. Policy Matters Ohio found Issue 1 will cut the prison population and enable Ohio to redirect more than $100 million a year to treatment and other community uses.

4. Issue 1 keeps families and communities intact. Rather than sending people hundreds of miles from home for low-level drug offenses or probation violations, Ohioans can stay closer to home in community treatment and rehabilitation organizations that will be newly funded and established thanks to Issue 1’s savings.

5. Ohio lawmakers haven’t fixed the problem. The Ohio Legislature hasn’t fixed this, but you can. Ohio General Assembly has failed to meaningfully reduce the state’s prison population and invest in treatment at a time when opioid addiction is soaring. In fact, each year, members of the Ohio Legislature introduce legislation to put more Ohioans in jail and to stiffen penalties for existing crimes. On average, 1 in 10 bills introduced in the 2017-2018 General Assembly creates a new crime, expands current crimes, or enhances sentences, according to the ACLU Ohio.

We have the right and the power to change what happens to our families and communities by voting on November 6. Treatment, instead of prison time, is the smart, fair and humane policy to purse. If we have strong voter turnout in the Black community, we can pass Issue 1. You have the power to change the future of your community. Join me by voting YES on Issue 1 on November 6 or before during early voting.