Early release program finds praise and criticism two years in - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Early release program finds praise and criticism two years in

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Supporters of House Bill 463 gather to promote the success of the bill. Supporters of House Bill 463 gather to promote the success of the bill.
The Capitol rotunda hosts supporters of House Bill 463 and media Wednesday. The Capitol rotunda hosts supporters of House Bill 463 and media Wednesday.
Rep. John Tilley spoke during a news conference Wednesday. Rep. John Tilley spoke during a news conference Wednesday.

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) -- Two years into legislation meant to reduce Kentucky's prison population and save money, supporters are calling it a success. But the bill continues to get criticism from law enforcement officials who say the program allows offenders to get off easy and offend again.

Passed in 2011, House Bill 463 made sweeping reforms to Kentucky's criminal justice system. Wednesday, supporters of the bill touted its early success by pointing to reduced prison populations and millions in savings.

"It's worked, and it is working," said Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary J. Michael Brown. He touted the decreased prison population, but did not address the number of offenders released on the program who had landed back in prison after release.

According to the Kentucky Department of Corrections, over 20% of inmates released under the Mandatory Reentry Supervision program have been returned to custody.

But supporters stuck to bigger picture numbers. They pointed out that since July 2012, Kentucky's prison population has gone down by 8%, and the state is saving millions. "For the first time in over a decade, we've actually cut the number of times somebody re-offends by almost five percent, and we're below the national average," said Representative John Tilley (D-Hopkinsville). "We know we are well on our way to saving the half-a-billion dollars we hope to save in ten years."

The law also put more emphasis on treatment programs rather than jail time. And at a news conference Wednesday, supporters said they are already surpassing their short term goals.

But when we called county prosecutors throughout our region to get their take on the bill's success, none wanted to comment. Many disagree with the reform, but said the topic was too politically charged to go on the record in opposition.

"No prosecutors like it. It's almost universal, I haven't personally met one yet that likes 463." 

Ron Wyatt isn't shy about his dislike for the changes, however. The Franklin County Chief Deputy Sheriff says the number of repeat offenders is down because more offenses are decriminalized as a part of the bill.

"I understand that it's a difficult economy and everybody has a tight budget, but I think it has to be a priority to keep our streets safe, and to keep our streets safe, we need to keep our offenders in jail," Wyatt said.

Offenders like Cannon Pendergrass. According to the Department of Corrections, he was released from custody on March 1, 2012 under the program. About one month later, he was charged with murdering 15-year-old Gregory Holt.

Holt was found shot to death on April 11, 2012 at his mother's apartment on Clover Street, near Dixie Highway.

But when we asked the bill's lead sponsor about Pendergrass, he had this to say: "Under MRS (Mandatory Reentry Supervision) we have no such incident like that."

Supporters claim available slots in substance abuse treatment programs have increased since the bill was implemented. They pointed to statistics that claim that in 2007 there were 1,430 available slots, and that in 2012 there were 5,987.

Wyatt said he supports treatment programs, but as a law enforcement officer, he would like to see a balance of both treatment and incarceration.

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