United Church of Christ

UCC speaks out in support of Ohio Issue 1

The United Church of Christ, which has long advocated for criminal justice reform and against mandatory minimums for non-violent drug offenses, is endorsing an effort in Ohio that would send fewer people to prison for drug possession and use, while redirecting dollars saved into providing more treatment for people suffering from addiction.

With the UCC National Offices headquartered in Cleveland, the denomination’s General Minister and President is speaking out for State Issue 1, "The Neighborhood Safety, Drug Treatment, and Rehabilitation Amendment." The measure, if passed in November, would make the possession, obtainment and use of illegal drugs a misdemeanor in some cases. There would also be no jail-time attached to drug sentences for first and second time offenders within a 24-month period.

“The long held belief that mass incarceration of non-violent offenders is a pathway to rehabilitation is a costly delusion that ruins lives, fosters recidivism, and lines the pockets of private prison owners. I am happy to support Issue 1 as a pathway to a more sane approach to our drug problems in this country,” said the Rev. John C. Dorhauer. “The United Church of Christ, which last year passed a resolution responding to the evil of mass incarceration, sees this as an important and necessary next step in the re-building of a criminal justice system that doesn’t ignore the call of justice."

The United Church of Christ joins the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio in declaring support for the amendment to the Ohio Constitution which will reduce the number of people in state prison and reinvest the savings to drug treatment programs and community services.

“Ohio has tried for decades to incarcerate its way out of its drug problem,” said the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, Executive Director of the ALCU of Ohio. “The result has been one of the nation’s largest prison populations and highest rates of drug addictions. It hasn’t worked. Mass incarceration is not drug treatment. It’s time for a new approach.”

The initiative on the November ballot decriminalizes certain fourth and fifth degree drug possessions from felonies to misdemeanors; rewards rehabilitation that allows those incarcerated to collect credits to reduce their sentence; and redirects money from prisons into local communities.

“Issue 1, above all, is a moral issue,” Guess continues, “because it redirects money now being spent on prisons and reinvests those dollars in community treatment services, and ends the cruel practice of saddling people with unnecessary felony records that can ruin their lives.”

Policy analysts estimate that the passage of Issue 1 would free up $136 million per year, and the initiative requires that those funds be reallocated to community needs, public safety, and addiction treatment.

“Issue 1 also incentivizes treatment, because those in prison can earn credits toward shortened sentences if they participate in education, behavior and treatment programs – programs that will be more readily available than they are now.”

A number of other faith groups are also endorsing the measure, but the UCC is the first mainline denomination to speak out in support of Issue 1.


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