The Ohio Student Association (OSA) — a statewide, intergenerational organization — is tired of elected officials ignoring the issue of mass incarceration in their beloved state. When it comes to mass incarceration, Ohio students are taking matters into their own hands and saying "no to the bulls**t." 

Promoting racial, social, economic and educational justice, the OSA is a collective of leaders between the ages of 13 and 35. Founded in 2012, the OSA has remained committed to dismantling mass-incarceration and decriminalizing young Ohioans, specifically young, Black people.

Blavity spoke with Mariah Johnson, a culture organizer with OSA, on the student's campaign to reform the state's prison system.

"Of the 50,000 people locked away in Ohio prisons, about 30,000 need drug treatment, yet the state can only afford to treat less than 5,000 of those people," Johnson said.

According Johnson, the OSA has collected 700,000 signatures from Ohioans in support of putting Issue 1 on the ballot.

Issue 1 seeks to accomplish two things: 

  1. Resentencing for people who've obtained felonies for low-level, non-violent offenses to a misdemeanor. This could potentially free thousands of people from Ohio prisons.
  2. Divest from prisons and invest in people, by allocating resources to drug treatment, rehab and community development.

Low-income residents and people of color, specifically low-income Black people, are far more likely to lose their freedom, and basically the rest of their lives over nonviolent low-level drug offenses. "Our people need healing and treatment, not incarceration," Johnson said. 

The notion of folks locked up without proper, necessary psychiatric care or other forms of rehabilitative treatment is something these students are standing for no longer.

"Voting 'yes' will mean investing $130 million each year into Ohio's communities, to heal families affected by mass incarceration and yield hope for the future," Johnson said. 

To push this initiative forward and encourage Black, millennial Ohioans to vote on November 6, the OSA has implemented more traditional community organizing tactics, like voter registration and neighborhood canvassing. The organization also plans to collaborate on projects with local emerging artists, creatives and influencers to create original content.

These students are fired up and ready to ignite change throughout their hometowns. To stay connected with their initiatives, follow the Ohio Student Association on social media using the handle @OHIOstudents.