Pew Study Shows Drug Problems Not Solved by Imprisonment, Ohio Data Shows Overdoses Not Reduced by Felony Convictions & Incarceration

For Immediate Release | October 23, 2019

Alliance for Safety and Justice Supports Passage of SB 3 to Make Communities Safer

COLUMBUS – Citing a Pew Charitable Trust issue brief – More Imprisonment Does Not Reduce State Drug Problems – released last year that found more imprisonment does not reduce state drug problems, the Alliance for Safety and Justice expressed support for state lawmakers to pass Senate Bill 3 to better address Ohio’s addiction epidemic and improve the health and safety of communities across the state.

“We are second only to West Virginia in overdose deaths and punishing people with drug addiction by giving them felonies and prison sentences is not working,” said Shakyra Diaz, Ohio State Director of the Alliance for Safety and Justice.“Pew’s research proves that we need meaningful reform to fix what isn’t working by adopting solutions that are based on evidence. Senate Bill 3 would do this by changing low-level drug possession charges from felonies to misdemeanors so we can begin to treat people with addiction instead of wasting tax dollars by sending them to prison and creating barriers to future employment.”

“The data reviewed in the Pew issue brief certainly supports many of the underpinnings of Ohio S.B. 3,” said State Senator John Eklund, the primary sponsor of the bill and chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “What we really need in the criminal justice system as it pertains to drug use and abuse is the right balance between consequences and incentives. I am confident that S.B. 3 will bring Ohio closer to striking that balance. Being a drug addict should not be a crime in Ohio.”

The Ohio Fact Sheet can be found here:

The Pew Charitable Trust study looked at the latest publicly available data, from 2014 federal and state law enforcement, corrections and health agencies, and found:

  • 300,000 people are held in state and federal prisons in the United States for drug-law violations, up from less than 25,000 in 1980
  • Comparing state drug imprisonment rates with three important measures of drug problems— self-reported drug use (excluding marijuana), drug arrest, and overdose death— found no statistically significant relationship between drug imprisonment and these indicators.
  • The costs of opioid misuse totaled $504 billion in 2015.

An analysis of Ohio county-by-county data from 2017 also showed that using felonies and incarceration has no positive impact on overdose rates. Counties that give many people felonies and send them to prison for low-level drug possession still see high overdose rates:

  • Scioto County has the 12th highest prison admissions rate for drug possession (71 percent higher than the statewide average). But its overdose rate is also high: It ranks 10th statewide, with an overdose rate 46 percent higher than the statewide average.
  • Fayette County has Ohio’s second highest prison admission rate for possession charges—292.2 per 100,000, more than 3.5 times the state average. Its overdose rate is also among the highest in the state: It ranks 5th, with 45.7 overdoses per 100,000 people—more than 1.5 times the state average.
  • Conversely, Medina County has the state’s lowest incarceration rate for F4/F5 felonies. Medina not only sends very few people to prison for the leading categories of drug offenses, but its overdose rate is also quite low: It ranks 62nd out of 88 counties.

“The data from counties in our state on overdoses and the current criminal justice response to addiction only supports the findings of Pew’s study. Using felonies and incarceration is not limiting or reducing overdoses in Ohio,” continued Diaz.“The evidence to support lawmakers’ efforts to reform drug sentencing is in front of us – now is the time to act.”


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