Ohio Responds To Heroin Epidemic By Not Jailing Dealers

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Anders Hagstrom Justice Reporter
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Ohio has the highest heroin overdose rate in the country, and the state’s proposed budget bill would stop sending heroin dealers to prison, reported Monday.

Ohio Auditor Dave Yost opposes the “Targeted Community Alternatives To Prison” (TCAP) budget provision that would expand non-prison treatment programs to include criminals convicted of heroin trafficking, felony in the state, reports. At more than 11 heroin overdose deaths per 100,000 residents, the Drug Enforcement Agency’s 2016 assessment ranks Ohio’s heroin epidemic as the worst in the country.

The state also topped the country with nearly 4,000 seizures of fentanyl from 2013 to 2015, a hyper-lethal drug mixed with heroin that can kill users who ingest as little as two milligrams.

Yost, a Republican 2018 candidate for Ohio Attorney General, argued that the budget provision in question should be removed from the budget plan and considered individually. Soft sentences for heroin dealers were an “unintended consequence of a complex idea,” Yost said in a June 7 letter to Ohio’s Senate Finance Committee.

The provision was designed to save money by lowering Ohio’s prison population and reducing recidivism with drug treatment programs.

“A person convicted of a felony needs to face the possibility of a prison sentence — if not as an initial sentence, at least as a possible sanction for violation of initial terms of probation,” Yost wrote in the Columbus Dispatch. “The proposed budget takes that tool out of the hands of judges for these criminals. Worse, it softens punishment while pretending that nothing has changed.”

However, TCAP advocates argue that the change would combat Ohio’s heroin epidemic better than jailing offenders. FreedomWorks, a conservative criminal justice reform group, criticized Yost on Twitter Thursday for opposing the provision.

FreedomWorks cited a March testimony from the Buckeye Insitute before the Senate Finance Committee. The non-profits argued that the offenders protected by the TCAP program are not “truly dangerous.”

Yost disagreed, arguing in the Dispatch that only those convicted of heroin possession should fall under TCAP programs, not heroin dealers.

The Ohio legislature has until June 30 to adjust and pass the state’s two-year budget.

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