Sheriff, coroner: Issue 1 will empty jails and fill morgues

Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones and Coroner Dr. Lisa Mannix are not mincing words to make it clear they oppose Issue 1 on the November ballot.

“(Issue 1) is not going to empty the prisons out, it is not going to empty the jails out. What it is going to do is kill more people,” Jones said during a recent press conference with the coroner.

CLOSER LOOK: What is Issue 1 on Ohio’s ballot this fall?

The proposed constitutional amendment, which is bankrolled by billionaires like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, Nicholas and Susan Pritzker of San Francisco and George Soros’ Open Society Policy Center, would:

• Convert felony 4 and felony 5 drug possession and drug use crimes to misdemeanors with no jail time for first and second offenses committed within a 24-month period

• Keep drug trafficking crimes as felonies

• Prohibit judges from sending people to prison if they violate probation with something other than a new crime, such as missing an appointment

• Cut prison time for offenders who complete rehabilitation programs, except those convicted of murder, rape or child molestation

• Put money saved by fewer people going to prison into drug treatment and crime victim programs

• Allow people convicted of certain drug crimes to petition the court for re-sentencing or release or to have the charge changed

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Jones said he does not believe supporters are being honest about the issue and questions all of the outside money being pumped into the campaign

Arresting people and putting them in jail is often the only way for addicts to get treatment, Jones said.

The sheriff said he has people call or approach him daily asking, “how can I save my son or my daughter’s life?”

“They will tell us (their loved ones) are doing drugs, heroin and fentanyl. Can you arrest them? And we can at that point,” Jones said. “We try to get them in the jail. If they are in jail, we can get them on programs.”

Jones said jail time also saves the lives of pregnant mothers who are addicted, as well as their unborn children.

“We save the babies lives. And the way we can do this is if we have charges on them and we can get them in (jail). If this is a misdemeanor, they can’t come to jail,” he said.

Mannix echoed the sheriff’s words.

“If we are going to empty the prisons, we are going to fill the morgue and that is not what our community needs, so Issue 1 is a bad idea,” Mannix said.

Mannix and Jones said Issue 1 would change possession of less than 20 milligrams of fentanyl to a misdemeanor charge.

“If you reduce the amounts, you are just making it easier for people to die,” Mannix said.

Ohio politicos are lining up for and against State Issue 1. Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike DeWine opposes it while Democratic nominee Rich Cordray supports it.

“Eight years of Mike DeWine’s failure have given us a tripling of opioid-related deaths and rising drug crime. The time for him to step up and solve this problem has long passed. Now, he wants to play politics with the opioid epidemic as it is destroying families and communities across Ohio,” Cordray said in a written statement. “As governor, I will work with law enforcement to make sure drug dealers are convicted and serve long prison sentences while people who need substance abuse treatment can get it in our communities.”

DeWine sounded the alarm against Issue 1, saying it would undermine drug courts, give Mexican cartels a “road map straight into our neighborhoods,” and allow early release of up to 10,000 felons now in prison. “It would gut the progress we have made and destroy lives, destroy families.”

Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, a Republican who favors some criminal justice reforms, wrote in a recent opinion piece that Issue 1 is unconscionable and catastrophic and would hamper drug courts in Ohio.

Supporting the issue are: Policy Matters Ohio, Ohio Justice and Policy Center, Ohio Baptist State Convention and several labor unions.

This article contains previous reporting by staff writer Laura Bischoff.

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