Kentucky Justice Cabinet Secretary Tilley says state can’t punish people to sobriety, notes key role of business community in opioid crisis

As the state continues to struggle with the scourge of opioids and heroin, Kentucky Justice Cabinet Secretary John Tilley says the approach to tackling both addiction and incarceration must be changed.

In a powerful illustration, the Justice Cabinet Secretary noted that in one year, America sees more deaths from drug overdose than the total number of lives lost in the Vietnam War.

In an interview with The Bottom Line, Tilley said there are thousands of individuals locked up in Kentucky due solely to their addiction rather than receiving treatment. Instead, Tilley said, Kentucky should be adopting a public health first approach to the issue.

“I heard someone I trust very much once say ‘We can’t punish people to sobriety, it doesn’t work.’ In fact, in this country, we have been trying to do that since roughly 1970 and look where we are,” Tilley said.

The cost of the opioid epidemic to the state, Tilley said, is incalculable when you look at the costs of incarceration, health care, and other aspects.

When looking at incarceration, Tilley said it costs Kentucky roughly $25,000 per inmate per year. When asked what it costs to put someone in treatment, he said while the numbers are all over the board, it is still a fraction of the cost of incarceration.

The culture surrounding the issues of substance abuse and criminal records and how that impacts the employment of individuals struggling with these issues has started to shift with the passage of expungement legislation and other initiatives to get people back to work and back on their feet.

Tilley said it is critical for the business community to remain involved on these issues to assist in recovery and/or reentry and also pointed to data that shows individuals in recovery or those with criminal records make better employees. He also noted the re-offense rate of someone without employment is 53 percent.

Watch the full interview segment with Justice Cabinet Secretary John Tilley in the video below (story continues after video):

On a separate policy issue, Tilley said he hopes to see the legislature pass a law making changes to Kentucky’s bail system in 2020.

When low-income citizens are detained and not able to post bail, it can also force them to lose their jobs because they must remain in jail. It is also a large cost to taxpayers as local governments lost $152 million last year because of Kentucky’s current bail system, according to a study by the Pegasus Institute.

“Bail is about release. And we either ought to release someone or not. It shouldn’t be based on their ability to pay,” Tilley said (in a discussion starting at 27:00). “I think it is immoral, its unconstitutional, and its ineffective.”

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Jacqueline Pitts
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