By Jacqueline Pitts, The Bottom Line
The state faces the prospect of a $600 million increased cost to taxpayers and a 19 percent rise in prison populations over the next decade if no changes are made to the corrections system. Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary, members of the General Assembly and others announced the filing of legislation to bring reforms to Kentucky’s criminal justice system.
With an increased focus on treatment and addressing the state’s opioid crisis, speakers at the press conference Tuesday said it is time the state stop incarcerating so many low-level offenders and instead focus state corrections dollars on getting to the root of the issues driving the prison population: drug addiction.
The governor said the rising cost and population in the state’s corrections system is an issue that has nothing to do with politics and must be addressed in order to ensure the best public safety outcomes for Kentucky citizens.
Gov. Bevin stated the new criminal justice reform legislation is expected to be filed this week by Reps. Jason Nemes and Kim Moser and noted Sen. Julie Raque Adams has also filed a justice bill this year, Senate Bill 133, focusing on cutting down on female incarcerations. Kentucky currently ranks second in the country for highest rates of female incarceration.
The legislation comes after the Justice Reinvestment Workgroup, part of the Criminal Justice Policy Assessment Council (CJPAC), presented recommendations on justice reforms at the end of 2017 following months of meetings and hearing testimony from experts. The Kentucky Chamber and many other groups participated in the workgroup.
Bevin said CJPAC was created to let groups from all across the political and justice spectrum have a voice on the issues and craft positive solutions.
Justice Cabinet Secretary Tilley pointed to Kentucky ranking ninth in the country for highest incarcerations and first for the number of children with incarcerated parents with more than 33,000 Kentucky children with at least one parent in prison at some point. Tilley noted the large number of low-level offenders the state is incarcerating as part of that problem.
In terms of what will be in the legislation, Tilley highlighted changes to how drug possessions are treated by making many of them misdemeanors rather than felonies, revocation caps, administrative parole standards, modernizing felony threshold levels, bail reforms, and more.
Sponsors of the House bill, Reps. Nemes and Moser, both stated the issue is not only a corrections and budget problem, but also a family issue as many Kentucky families are impacted by drug addiction and then incarceration of family members for low-level charges.
Alaina Combs, Continuing Care Coordinator at the Healing Place in Louisville, spoke at the press conference about her experience with drug addiction and incarceration and said she was in an endless cycle of addiction and being in and out of prison but because she was eventually asked while in prison if she wanted treatment, she has been able to come full circle with her recovery and help others with similar issues.
Combs said providing treatment instead of repeated incarceration provides hope for recovery and getting back into society.
Others from the CJPAC group spoke at the press conference about the way the new legislation will help improve outcomes for not only those within the corrections system but also for taxpayers by ensuring public dollars are spent wisely.
Daniel Cameron, spokesman for Kentucky Smart on Crime, noted the support of the coalition which represents a unique group of interests across many sectors with the Kentucky Chamber, ACLU of Kentucky, religious groups, and many others working on the issues.
Cameron noted the skyrocketing number of deaths in the state due to overdose in recent years and persistent issues in the system which will continue to grow if not addressed. Adding the justice reform bill is a holistic approach that will begin to address some of these problems.