The Smart on Crime coalition, of which the Kentucky Chamber is a founding member, held a press call Monday to discuss the causes and consequences of Kentucky’s disproportionately high rate of female incarceration.
Kentucky ranks fifth among states for the number of incarcerated women per capita at a rate nearly double the national average. Kentucky’s drug addiction epidemic is largely to blame as many of these women are incarcerated for nonviolent, drug-related crimes.
Kentucky Chamber Senior Vice President of Public Affairs Ashli Watts summarized the Chamber’s position on criminal justice reforms during the call by stating the Chamber first called for reforms after publishing the Leaky Bucket report, which showed growth in correction funding was out of step with other segments of the state budget, and more recently, has begun to focus on criminal justice reforms as a solution to workforce challenges.
“We are simply spending too much money locking up low level, non-violent offenders,” Watts said.
She further described Kentucky’s workforce participate rate which is the fourth lowest in the country and stated that “we have too many jobs without people and too many people without jobs and smart criminal justice reform can help.”
“Our members have become increasingly passionate about these issues,” she stated while explaining the Chamber’s support for felony expungement legislation in 2016, SB 120 which dealt with re-entry reforms in 2017, and the Chamber’s involved with Governor Bevin’s Justice Reinvestment Task Force.
Also on the call, Amanda Hall, Smart on Crime organizer for the ACLU of Kentucky and former program director at the Women’s Healing Place, spoke about her recovery from drug addiction and experience with incarceration. She credited the recovery center not prison for saving her life.
“We can’t continue to lock away the problem. It only returns,” Hall said.