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Father who lost son to overdose testifying in support of Ohio drug sentencing reform

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Charles “Chip” Jenkins won’t have a picture of his son with him today when he walks into the Ohio Statehouse to testify in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Chip Jenkins said he forgot the photo — the one showing his son as the good-looking, charismatic young man he remembers. Alex Jenkins, 26, of Akron, died of a drug overdose in 2015.

The elder Jenkins will testify today in support of Senate Bill 3, arguing that after his oldest child was convicted for drug possession it was like he was branded with a scarlet ‘F’ for felony conviction. It was all potential employers saw, preventing Alex Jenkins from employment and the tools needed to re-enter society with this sobriety, he father said.

The younger Jenkins, a graduate of Cloverleaf High School, relapsed after two years of being clean and fatally overdosed. Alex’s death shocked the Jenkins family into action, first in 2015 when they started a memorial fund to raise awareness about the lack of treatment options in Medina County. And today, with a first-ever trip to Columbus to argue for legislative changes to help those caught up in addiction.

“(Senate Bill 3) is going to help the low-level offenders. This is the people that are addicted, they have an addiction disorder,” Chip Jenkins said. “Low-level offenders will be given a misdemeanor instead of the felony charge. Once someone has a felony on their records, it becomes very difficult to get a job, housing or survive. It’s just another obstacle for them when staying clean should be their focus.”

Senate Bill 3 is a bipartisan, comprehensive drug-sentencing reform bill introduced in March. The bill is meant to target prosecution on trafficking offenses and give judges a track for promoting treatment for possession charges before imposing jail time.

Other features include changing court jurisdiction by proposing municipal courts cannot hear newly classified cases unless they have their own drug court. Otherwise, cases will be heard in the local common pleas court.

It also would allow judges to hold criminal charges for nonviolent first-time possession charges in abeyance pending a treatment program. Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Montville Township; Jon Eklund, R-Chardon; and Sean O’Brien, D-Cortland, are sponsoring Senate Bill 3.

Medina police Chief Ed Kinney said in an email Tuesday he was not in favor of lessening the offense of possession of felony drugs.

“I am in favor of the Senate Bill’s provision for treatment in lieu of conviction or jail time for nonviolent first-time offenders,” he said. “Our common pleas court drug programs are working as intended and the judges who administer their individual programs are doing a great job. The end goal is successful rehabilitation of individuals addicted to drugs rather than incarceration.

“If there is no deterrence or a lesser deterrence for drug use, addicted individuals will lose the motivation to successfully complete a treatment program. In my experience, I have found consequences to be an effective motivator and a path toward sobriety.”

Obhof during a criminal reform forum in Cleveland last month said Senate Bill 3 would provide better paths to treatment for Ohioans suffering from drug addiction while ensuring drug traffickers face strict felony charges.

“This is about being smart on crime,” Obhof said then. “It’s about following policies that make more sense, and lead to not just to a second chance for low-level, nonviolent offenders, but to safer communities as well.”

The proposed legislation is similar to that of Issue 1, the constitutional amendment issue voters overwhelming defeated in November. Jenkins supported Issue 1.

“I know a lot of the opponents of Issue 1 didn’t like how it was written as a constitutional amendment and members in law enforcement and the courts said it would take away their ability to use a felony charge or jail sentence as a deterrent,” Chip Jenkins said. “But I think the senators in our state realize what we are doing isn’t working.

“It’s not. I can tell you first hand, I asked my son, how he could do this if he knew it could kill him. He said ‘We just don’t think about it that way.’ So if death is not a deterrent to preventing someone from feeding their addition. What makes them think a felony would be a deterrent?”

Chip Jenkins said his son was a typical kid group up. He played baseball. He had lots of friends.

“He would draw people to him because of his charisma. He didn’t have an enemy,” he said. “He was everybody’s friends.”

Chip Jenkins said his son started doing drugs fairly early in high school, around the 10th grade when he was about 15 years old. He learned later that his son used the drugs to self-medicate issues of anxiety, “to feel normal” and “try to escape.”

“When something like this happens, you are looking at it trying to figure out what to do,” said the father. “I tried everything I could think of, but I was unprepared. My wife, she really had tabs on what was happening with him. She was always there trying to save him from little things and big things. Still, we didn’t really know the extent of what was going on ... because that how it is with addition.

“They become experts at deceit and deception.”

The turning point came when Alex Jenkins got into a car crash and broke his femur.

“The pain that came along with that helped to solidify the addiction,” his father said. “I don’t know how far along it was before that. But when you get that kind of injury and have addiction tendencies, the kind of drugs given to deal with that pain really caused the addiction to take hold.”

Alex Jenkins went to several different treatment centers in hopes of beating his addiction including Glenbeigh, part of the Cleveland Clinic.

“There, he called me just in tears because the insurance wouldn’t cover any more days and he felt he was making progress,” Chip Jenkins said. “… When he finally came back, he was clean. He tried to get a job at the local Dollar General and he found out he had the felony on his record. They wouldn’t hire him.

“Here you had someone who was feeling good, susceptible to abuse when he gets out and can’t get a job. He was devastated.”

Chip Jenkins said he believes if Senate Bill 3 passes people like his son wouldn’t have a felony hanging over their heads as they look to get clean and find jobs and housing.

“The addicts — no, I don’t like using that terminology — the people with drug addiction disorder, the drugs have altered their brain chemistry, so using jail as a deterrent is useless,” he said. “They need treatment.

“I don’t think I would be lying or dreaming to say had Alex got that job. It would have turned his life around. I really believe that.”

Contact Lisa Roberson at (330) 721-4060 or lroberson@medina-gazette.com.

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