Work group aims to reduce overcrowding in Kentucky jails
In 2015, the incarceration rate for women in Kentucky was the fifth highest in the nation, almost twice the national average.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Kentucky is losing money, losing jail space and not getting any safer. That's according to several state leaders working to turn the prison system around, targeting a specific population to keep some inmates out of jail and in life-saving treatment.
A car accident for Amanda Hall led to painkillers and addiction. Addiction turned into prison time.
"I wanted help. There was just no help in there. So, I was just miserable. So, I sat there and thought about all the bad things I had done in my life and then this thought would come to my head: when you get out, you can just use. If you use, that will go away, it will go away. That's the only way to take it away," Hall said.
According to Kentucky Smart on Crime, in 2015, the incarceration rate for women in Kentucky was the fifth highest in the nation, almost twice the national average.
"I'm surprised we're not at the very top, considering we are the ground zero for the drug epidemic. With the opioid crisis being at its core here in Kentucky, I'm surprised we're not first because women are suffering greatly," says Judge Stephanie Burke of Jefferson County District Court.
According to Judge Burke, historically, women were less likely to be locked up. State and local facilities around the country have seen 50 percent more women in the last five years. "The female population is increasing more significantly in a faster rate than any other population, demographic nationwide," she said.
Judge Burke said Metro Corrections has half of a floor, five percent, dedicated to female inmates. Women make up 12-15 percent of the jail population.
Kentucky Smart on Crime statistics show that two-thirds of female inmates in 2016 were sentenced for drug and property offenses.
"If I let them go out that door, is there a high likelihood that they might die? Well, you have to be knowledgeable about addiction and know a lot about the person."
Judge Burke has seen improved education within the judicial system and conversation about treatment. "There's definitely been a significant shift in mindset."
That's what changed Hall's life. "That cycle of incarceration did nothing more than to add the cycle of incarceration. Treatment pushed the stop button," she said.
Kentucky's inmate population is still expected to increase by 19 percent over the next decade, costing taxpayers nearly $600 million.
A new work group of criminal justice leaders recently announced steps for upcoming legislation to curb prison growth and improve safety. The recommendations include strengthening pretrial release, focusing resources on serious and violent offenders, adding more community supervision, minimizing financial barriers and ensuring sustainability of reforms.
Hall is now a Smart on Crime organizer for the ACLU of Kentucky, and she is on board to help others with addiction.
"To look at these other states, these states that have been brave and done what was best for the citizens and to really follow lead, we don't have to reinvent the wheel," Hall said.
In the meantime, hundreds of addicts a month will be on Judge Burke's docket and more help can't come soon enough.
"Those numbers are very burdening and overwhelming sometimes, but you just have to keep doing it. That's why we're here. That's why we do this," Judge Burke said.
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