In the recent midterm elections, over one and a half million Ohioans took a stand against mass incarceration and voted in favor of Issue 1.
Issue 1 was a proposed amendment to the Ohio constitution that would have required
“…sentence reductions of incarcerated individuals, except individuals incarcerated for murder, rape, or child molestation, by up to 25% if the individual participates in rehabilitative work or educational programming. Mandate that criminal offenses of obtaining, possessing, or using any drug such as fentanyl, heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, LSD, and other controlled substances cannot be classified as a felony, but only a misdemeanor. Prohibit jail time as a sentence for obtaining, possessing, or using such drugs until an individual’s third offense within 24 months. Allow an individual convicted of obtaining, possessing, or using any such drug prior to the effective date of the amendment to ask a court to reduce the conviction to a misdemeanor, regardless of whether the individual has completed the sentence. Require any available funding, based on projected savings, to be applied to state administered rehabilitation programs and crime victim funds. Require a graduated series of responses, such as community service, drug treatment, or jail time, for minor, non-criminal probation violations.”
Unfortunately Issue 1 did not pass, with 63 percent of those voting casting a “no” vote. However, the 36 percent “yes” vote, representing about 1.5 million people, is still significant.
If the Issue 1 amendment had passed it would have been a great step in the path towards meeting working people’s basic needs, which are grossly neglected under capitalism. Issue 1 would have helped those struggling with substance abuse to get out of prison where little to no help is offered for addiction. Current treatment for prisoners with addiction (or rather lack of treatment) shows that the prison industrial complex does not rehabilitate. Instead, capitalist prisons exist to control the working class . The prison industrial complex does this by warehousing members of the working class for whom capitalism is unable to provide jobs, to in an attempt to prevent these “excess” workers from threatening the system.
This vote shows that hundreds of thousands of Ohio residents, like people across the U.S., believe that tax dollars should not be used to incarcerate people with substance abuse problems and instead used to help them. Petty crimes, crimes of survival and the rapidly spreading opioid addiction epidemic are correlated with poverty.
The increasingly terrible conditions that we face—rising housing costs, impossible medical bills, unpayable debt, and so on—drive some to seek an escape in opioids and other substances. Addiction is not a voluntary “choice” but a complex condition requiring compassionate care. People with addiction and substance abuse problems are not throwaway people but beloved members of our communities.
Although Issue 1 was not passed, a million and a half people voted for it. All progressive and revolutionary people should stand in solidarity with those in Ohio who want the opioid epidemic to end and don’t want to see their loved ones being locked up anymore. The struggle is far from lost and advocates will continue to work for real change. Only through a system based on meeting people’s needs rather than accumulating profits can we more fully solve the many problems our communities face.