LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A bipartisan group of legislators and advocates, led by Gov. Matt Bevin, has unveiled a major criminal justice reform bill.

Senate Bill 120 is designed to help people with criminal records stay out of jail, and get back to work.

Supporters say it would both save taxpayer dollars and increase public safety by easing the transition back into society for people like Darin Ashley of Louisville.

Ashley is helping repair a house, but he first had to repair his life.

Years ago, he spent time in jail for manufacturing meth. But after he served his time, getting a real job was not easy.

“They take one look at my record, and they don't want nothing to do with me,” Ashley told WDRB.

But, with the help of a Christian transitional program run by Prodigal Ministries, Ashley survived, and then thrived.

“It took me awhile, but I got my masters license now, and opened up my own company, Divine Services, doing heating and air,” he said.

Senate Bill 120 is designed to produce more Darin Ashleys.

It would break down barriers that make it tougher for people with criminal records to get honest work.

“The purpose of criminal justice is to rehabilitate and re-assimilate people, not simply to remove them,” said Gov. Matt Bevin.

Among other things, the bill makes it easier for felons to get professional and occupational licenses.

Ashley says he had to fight more than 5 years.

“I think it makes good sense to get out of the way, and help these folks make a successful transition,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Whitney Westerfield (R-Hopkinsville), who is chairman of Senate Judiciary Committee.

SB 120 also allows private business to operate inside prisons, giving inmates opportunities for jobs and income. And the bill gives more inmates the chance for work release.

Supporters say this does not make Kentucky softer on crime.

“If you're not doing anything to prevent people from coming back in, and you send them right back out to the community and the circumstance that led them to the decisions they made to get them there in the first place, then what good have we done?” said Westerfield. 

Darin Ashley agrees.

“They got a job, they feel good about themselves, and they're becoming productive citizens. And not only that, they bring hope to other people that are coming out, too,” said Ashley. “Because if they can make it, so I can I.”

SB 120 includes recommendations from a Criminal Justice Reform Task Force appointed by Gov. Bevin last year.

The bill does not include some proposals such as bail and sentencing reform. It could get a Senate vote as early as next week.

You can read SB 120 here.

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