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Ohio to Reduce Criminal Drug Sentences?

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By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on May 09, 2011 9:57 AM

Is a recent policy shift that has caused states to rethink drug laws a sign that the war on drugs is over?

Ohio, the latest state on the path to reduced drug sentences, doesn't think so. Instead, legislators considering the current bill point to the need to reduce prison costs and refocus resources on violent, hardened criminals.

As a result of the war on drugs, criminal drug sentences and incarceration rates have skyrocketed, overcrowding prisons and costing states millions of dollars a year that could be focused elsewhere.

In response, the Ohio House on Wednesday almost unanimously passed a sentencing reform bill that is estimated to save the state $78 million a year.

Part the bill focuses on replacing drug sentences with treatment for low-level drug and nonviolent offenders, reports The Wall Street Journal. It also encourages prisoners to seek treatment and take part in education and training programs, offering reduced jail time.

Additionally, the bill equalizes crack and powder cocaine, and sentences child support offenders to community programs, not prison, a big contributor to overcrowding that has previously been discussed on FindLaw's Law and Daily Life.

While some prosecutors and judges may balk at the reduction in drug sentences out of fear that they are being stripped of their discretion, the fact is that it is about time that states rethink drug laws.

States only have a limited supply of funds, and there needs to be a frank discussion about how to best ensure the public safety. If legislators conclude that the public is still best served with harsh drug sentences, so be it. But at least the conversation occurred.

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