Justice reforms critical as state faces pension crisis and other budget issues, Kentucky Smart on Crime spokesman says

As Kentucky looks to resolve its pension crisis and craft a responsible budget while facing revenue shortfalls, new Kentucky Smart on Crime Spokesman Daniel Cameron says continuing to look at common sense justice reform could create savings for the state while maintaining a focus on public safety.

Cameron, who served as legal counsel to U.S. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell since March 2015, joined Louisville law firm Frost Brown Todd LLC in July 2017. Cameron has also been named the spokesman for Kentucky Smart on Crime, a coalition advocating for common sense criminal justice reforms in the Commonwealth.

The coalition consists of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, ACLU of Kentucky, Catholic Conference of Kentucky, Kentucky Council of Churches, Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky Center for Economic Policy and Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

The Kentucky Smart on Crime coalition has supported justice reform legislation that has been signed into law in recent years including a felony expungement bill in 2016 and SB 120 during the 2017 session which seeks to cut down on recidivism and allow people a better transition back into the community after life in prison.

“The number one focus of Kentucky Smart on Crime is public safety and how can we improve public safety. Our prisons are maxed out in terms of the number of folks that are inmates and yet we still see we still have pretty staggering numbers in terms of the crime rate. And last year was an incredibly challenging year in terms of opioid deaths in the Commonwealth. Last year we lost 1,404 people to opioid abuse and addiction,” Cameron said. “We can’t continue to do what we’re doing and hope for a different result.”

As for what comes next on justice issues, Cameron noted the work of the new Justice Reinvestment Workgroup that will be studying data and hearing testimony in the coming months before presenting their findings and policy prescriptions in December.

With the state facing many fiscal issues ahead of crafting a budget during the 2018 session, Cameron also pointed to the large amount of revenue that goes toward the corrections system and the need to find ways to cut down on those costs while balancing public safety concerns.

“As you noted, we have a pension crisis that is live and very urgent as well as a budget situation. And the governor, as I recall, has asked for 17 percent reductions across the board. And so it is important that we look at every agency and every department and see how we can continue to get the best production out of the dollars we spend,” Cameron said. “$540 million is a lot for a state to be spending on corrections. And I know folks would say there’s a little bit of fatigue when it comes to public safety issues, but we can’t afford, in this environment, when there are so few dollars out there to have fatigue and when we know there are so many looming crises around the corner.”

In terms of common misconceptions on justice reform issues, he said people often think to tackle criminal justice issues, the inclination is to let people out of prison without cause, which Cameron said is not the case.

“That is not what Kentucky Smart on Crime is about. I think violent criminals need to be housed in jail. And I think the effort we’ve undertaken is to really rethink and reconsider how we are handling those folks that aren’t violent criminals, that have a drug problem and have an addiction problem, and ultimately a mental health problem. So the question becomes, how do we take care of those folks,” Cameron said.

Watch the full interview with Kentucky Smart on Crime Spokesman Daniel Cameron on the coalition’s mission, priorities in the coming years, his background, and more in the video below:

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Jacqueline Pitts
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