Washington County officials voice opposition to issue one

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MARIETTA, Ohio (WTAP) - UPDATE 10/18/18

City and Washington County officials gathered at Marietta Municipal Court Thursday to voice opposition to state issue one.

The event, organized by Marietta Municipal Court Judge Janet Welch and the Washington County Sheriff's Department, included law enforcement from Marietta, Belpre and the sheriff's office, the Washington County prosecutor's office and three of the county's judges.

Officials say the proposal would undermine drug courts and the criminal justice system and remove the incentive for substance abuse users to get into treatment because they would not face the threat of going to jail.

Officials also added that since this is a constitutional amendment, it can only be changed by another constitutional amendment and not by passing legislation.

"This will turn most felony possession offenses into misdemeanors," Washington County prosecutor Kevin Rings said, "and not just misdemeanors but misdemeanors for which the court cannot impose any jail sentence. Therefore they'll all be on probation. It goes one step further and ties the hands of the probation department."

"Without the potential of jail, there's no stick to force people into treatment," Washington County Common Pleas Judge Mark Kerenyi said, "you know we put them on probation and tell them alright, it's time to go to treatment. They don't want to go. There's no reason for them to go. They don't have to go. You can't put them in jails for violations."

Washington County commissioner Ron Feathers also said it's impossible to calculate the costs this may impose on social services, the county jail and other services if this passes.

Meanwhile, supporters say jail does more harm than good for addicts.

"Jail is not treatment so being locked up does nothing for my recovery," recovery advocate and recovering addict Justin Carmichael said, "you can keep me dry from the drugs for ex amount of time but I can find it in jail or prison."

Carmichael says the system we have now and have been using for decades is not working so we need to try something new.

"Spend money on something that is effective as opposed to just spending massive amounts of money on something that's completely ineffective which is what we're doing now," he added.

Carmichael says he knows the proposal isn't perfect but it's a start.

"I hope that in the future, we stop meeting addicts with hand cuffs," he said, "and start meeting them with empathy, compassion and a solution to their problem."

ORIGINAL STORY 10/8/18

Advocates of Ohio Issue 1 say the issue comes down to this: should Ohio spend more money keeping what are considered low-level drug offenders in prison, or helping them kick the habit?

But law enforcement officials and several prosecutors feel differently about it.

"If it passes, it could have a devastating effect on law enforcement in the Mid-Ohio Valley," predicts Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks.

The leader and founder of the group High on Hope Ministries admits Issue 1 isn't perfect, but it's a start.

"There are some parts of it that are extreme," says Tim Craft, "but I see some bullet points that may be beneficial."

Craft is among advocates who say simply putting people in prison doesn't address their problem. He says they need to be encouraged.

"I always say this: abstinence is not freedom. Until we can teach people to live fre, they're always going to live in a circle. There's too many people who are incarcerated and could use treatment and get their life back in order."

One of the proposals is reducing penalties to probation for possession of certain amounts of fentanyl, heroin and other drugs, Sheriff Mincks says that encourages drug dealers.

"When they sell that 19 grams, they'll get another 19 grams," the sheriff says. "As long as they're not caught with 20, they're not looking at jail time. And 19 grams will kill 10,000 people."

Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn has come up with what he says is an alternative to Issue 1: changing the way drug offenses are determined, and providing more flexible sentencing guidelines.