We are writing to encourage women and feminist readers to vote yes on Issue 1 in November. Issue 1 would increase funding for drug treatment programs while reducing drug possession and probation violation charges from felonies to misdemeanors. 

Decarceration is a feminist issue. The incarceration rate currently is rising faster for white women than for any other demographic group — largely because of the opioid crisis. But black women are still incarcerated at double the rate of white women. If Issue 1 doesn’t pass, Ohio will likely spend $2 billion on the construction of another women’s prison.

Women are 30 times more likely to be sexually assaulted in prison than on the outside — and guards, not fellow prisoners, are the perpetrators in most cases. Trans women are particularly vulnerable, and, as a form of “protection,” they are often placed in solitary confinement for long periods — considered by the United Nations to be a form of torture.

More than half of prisoners are parents of children under the age of 18. Incarcerated women are more likely than men to lose custody of their children forever as a result of their imprisonment. Shackling pregnant women, including during labor and delivery, is legal in Ohio.

Meanwhile, opioid related deaths have increased dramatically for both men and women. But for prescription opioids and heroin alike, the death rate of women has increased at over twice the rate of men. In Ohio, 68 women died of opioid overdoses in 2000. That number increased to 1,145 overdose deaths in 2016.

The recent #MeToo movement has drawn attention to the prevalence and implications of violence against women in the United States, and the high rate of opioid use among women is part of this story. Sexual assault and physical violence are risk factors for all kinds of substance use, but particularly for opioids. Unfortunately, poor women in Ohio often do not have access to mental healthcare. Without treatment options, some women turn to opioids and other drugs in an attempt to self medicate.

Issue 1 would not just provide treatment for women already addicted, but it would also help to fund trauma treatment programs for victims of crimes. This prevention aspect is key in getting to the roots of the opioid epidemic among Appalachian women.

Incarceration, drug addiction and violence against women are deeply interrelated. Vote yes on Issue 1 to take a step toward breaking the cycle.

Katherine King and Ellie Hamrick are residents of Athens.