Work Group identifies measures to curb rising prison population and costs

Handcuffs on a pile of US dollar banknotes- symbolic image of a bribe, laundering of money or corruption. Selective focus.

On Monday, the Justice Reinvestment Work Group of the Criminal Justice Policy Assessment Council (CJPAC) appointed by Gov. Matt Bevin in late 2016 released their recommendations for curbing the growing, costly prison population in Kentucky.

In 2015, Kentucky had the tenth highest incarceration rate in the country and the fifth highest rate of incarceration for women. Between 2012 and 2016, admissions to Kentucky prisons increased 32%. This trend comes at a growing cost to Kentucky taxpayers as the state now spends $570.5 million on corrections annually, an increase of $65 million since FY2014.

Growth in Kentucky’s prison population including unprecedented growth in its female prison population is driven by substantial increases in admissions for people convicted of low-level, nonviolent offenses and those revoked from community supervision.  Several recommendations identified by the Work Group aim to reverse this trend.

Recommendations include:

  • Improve pretrial release to ensure that jail beds are reserved for the highest risk defendants
  • Focus prison beds on serious and violent offenders through sentencing changes that prioritize treatment for lower-level offenders and parole reforms that address expensive delays and into treatment
  • Strengthen community supervision by improving responses to supervision violations; expanding the use of incentives to encourage compliance and positive behavior; and incorporating other best practices that are proven to reduce recidivism rates
  • Minimize the financial barriers to reentry by expanding the use of alternatives to incarceration for nonpayment of financial obligations and other mechanisms to ensure that repayment of fines and fees are not a barrier to successful reentry
  • Send resources back to the local infrastructures that most need them by creating a cost sharing mechanism to share a portion of DOC savings with counties for Class D bed reductions in subsequent years in order to support front-end treatment and supervision of the misdemeanor population
  • Support the priorities of the victims’ community by improving training on victims’ rights and services and directing funds to victim services
  • Establish key sustainability measures, ensuring that these reforms are effective and stay effective for the long term, including data collection and reporting requirements

Kentucky Chamber Senior VP of Public Affairs Ashli Watts served on the Work Group.  Watts stated, “Simply put, we are locking up far too many low level, non-violent offenders. Changing our felony theft threshold and reclassifying drug possession would allow our state to reinvest in treatment and reentry. These are just two of the many important, evidenced-based recommendations contained in the report.  The Kentucky Chamber looks forward to bold reforms in the 2018 session.”

The Chamber is a member of the Smart on Crime Coalition that has been involved in CJPAC’s work.  Upon release of the recommendations, Smart on Crime Spokesman Daniel Cameron had this to say:

“Kentucky can join the many states, both red and blue, that have recently decreased their prison populations, while simultaneously reducing their crime rates.  The Kentucky Smart on Crime Coalition looks forward to a productive 2018 General Assembly session.”

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