AP NEWS

Ohio Issue 1 will not reap savings that supporters tout: state analysis

October 11, 2018

Ohio Issue 1 will not reap savings that supporters tout: state analysis

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The savings from incarcerating fewer people for drug possession crimes will be about a third as much as supporters of Ohio Issue 1 estimate, according to a new state fiscal analysis.

At best, the state could see an annual estimated cost savings of $24.7 million in 2020, the first year of implementation, increasing to $48.5 million in FY 2023, the analysis says. Supporters say the state could save $136 million in 2020.

In fact, depending on how Issue 1 is interpreted, it could cost Ohio more, the analysis by the Ohio Office of Budget and Management says.

The Office of Budget and Management is an agency under Gov. John Kasich, who opposes Issue 1. Issue 1 supporters reject the analysis as a political document intended to sink the constitutional amendment.

State law requires all proposed amendments be analyzed. OBM has access to the budgets of all state agencies, as well as other data.

Under Issue 1, on the ballot Nov. 6:

Felony drug possession and use crimes would be reclassified as misdemeanors.Savings from less incarceration would be directed toward drug treatment, crime victim and other adult and children programs.People who are convicted of these crimes would not go to prison until the third conviction in 24 months.People who are currently imprisoned or have been convicted of the crimes can petition the court to reclassify them, which supporters say would make it easier to get better-paying jobs. People could be released from prison as a result.Inmates could have their sentences reduced by up to 25 percent for participating in treatment and other prison programming.

Prison population

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction has 58,000 inmates at 28 prisons, the 39-page fiscal analysis states. The department has a model that projects prison populations, which the analysis used to test Issue 1 against.

It found that Issue 1, along with some recent changes in state law regarding low-level drug offenders, could result in around 5,700 fewer people being incarcerated – possibly less -- in coming years. The corrections department noted that implementation of criminal justice reforms over the years always led to more modest reductions in the prison population than originally estimated.

This number is lower than the estimated 10,335 reduction in inmates that Issue 1 supporter Policy Matters Ohio estimated in its own analysis. Policy Matters also estimated the state would save $136 million in its first year of implementation, based on a calculation of the per-diem expenses to incarcerate a criminal.

The state analysis was critical of that approach, saying Ohio’s correction system has fixed costs – buildings, equipment and energy.

Potential litigation

The state analysis said it also needed to consider potential litigation over provisions of Issue 1. The analysis offered examples of potential lawsuits the state could face, mostly surrounding litigants claiming treatment and other programs are not funded properly.

People in prison who want to work for an up to 25 percent sentence reduction may find programs are insufficient and could sue.

Local government

The analysis says Issue 1 would shift costs from the statewide prison system to local governments. For instance, felonies are heard in state courts, but misdemeanor cases are tried in local government courts.

“Consequently, local public defenders and prosecutors will experience a higher case load from these newly reclassified offenses that they would be required to handle; thus, there will be an increased financial burden to these entities,” the analysis said.

Critique

Dennis Willard, a spokesman for the Yes on Issue 1 campaign, said the analysis “was prepared for career politicians who continue to dig their heads deeper and deeper into the sand as the opioid epidemic claims on average 14 lives a day in Ohio, and our state is second in the nation only to West Virginia in overdose deaths.”

Willard said the campaign stands by the Policy Matters Ohio analysis with different conclusions.

AP RADIO
Update hourly