The hidden dangers of Issue 1


By Catherine Harper Lee - Guest columnist



On the surface, Issue 1 sounds promising. According to television commercials, Issue 1 would reduce prison overcrowding, save millions of dollars by not incarcerating non-violent drug users, reallocate money saved for drug treatment, and keep violent offenders and drug dealers locked up.

But, the numbers just don’t add up. According to the 2018 Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Institution Census, of the total 49,512 incarcerated offenders, 2,758 were convicted of crimes pertaining to the use and possession of drugs.

How could the reduction of 5.6 percent of the prison population provide the promised massive cost savings? The answer – it can’t.

Although proponent’s television commercials promise Issue 1 would keep violent offenders locked up, it would do exactly the opposite.

Buried within the lengthy Issue 1 proposal is one sentence that would have a devasting impact on the safety of crime victims, their families, and Ohio communities. That sentence is contained in section (H), which states that only three types of offenders would not be eligible for early release: those convicted of murder, rape, and child molestation.

This means that 26,605 currently incarcerated violent offenders would be able to receive early release, and future violent offenders would receive over 25 percent reduction in their sentences. This is how Issue 1 would obtain the massive cost savings.

Murder and rape are only two of many serious, violent crimes in Ohio. If Issue 1 is passed, offenders of crimes such as felonious, aggravated, and simple assault, aggravated burglary, sexual battery, attempted rape, gross sexual imposition, kidnapping, domestic violence, child pornography, human trafficking, and many others would receive over 25 percent reduction in their sentences.

So, when Issue 1 television commercials promise that Issue 1 will keep violent offenders locked up, don’t buy it.

Further, counter to what you might have heard, Issue 1 could allow those convicted of child sex offenses, other than rape, to receive over 25 percent reduction in their sentences.

This is confusing because Issue 1 specifically states those convicted of murder, rape, and child molestation would not be eligible for the 25 percent reduction. Murder and rape are crimes defined in Ohio law. Child molestation is not.

Crimes listed in Ohio law (and not listed in the Issue 1 text) that involve sex offenses committed against children include: sexual battery, gross sexual imposition, unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, commercial sexual exploitation of a minor, and illegal use of minor in nudity-oriented material or performance, among others. Offenders convicted of these crimes could easily argue that they were not “convicted of child molestation,” and therefore, they must be eligible for early release. I am concerned this argument would succeed.

If passed, Issue 1 would allow for the early release of murderers and rapists because offenders routinely accept plea deals for lesser crimes.

Murder is often pled down to voluntary manslaughter or negligent homicide. Rape is often pled down to sexual battery, felonious assault, aggravated assault, domestic violence, kidnapping, abduction with a sexual motivation, unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, and other lesser offenses.

Many parents of child rape victims agree with negotiated pleas to spare their children the additional trauma caused by testifying in court. Negotiated pleas often include joint agreements, between prosecution and defense, on sentencing recommendations. Parents expect the agreed upon sentence to be a true sentence. Issue 1 would undermine truth in sentencing, potentially leading to fewer plea agreements, more children re-traumatized by testifying, and public distrust in the transparency of our justice system.

Issue 1 may have started as a good idea, but funding for treatment should not be obtained by releasing tens of thousands of violent offenders.

Drafters of Issue 1 should go back to the drawing board and come up with a solution that does not compromise the safety of Ohio’s crime victims, their families, and the public.

I urge you to vote No on Issue 1.

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By Catherine Harper Lee

Guest columnist

Catherine Harper Lee is executive director of the Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center.

Catherine Harper Lee is executive director of the Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center.