With prison space running out, Gov. Bevin unveils proposal to reform Kentucky criminal justice system
The plan would steer drug addicts toward treatment instead of incarceration.
FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) -- Kentucky's jails and prisons are bursting at the seams, projected to run out of space by mid-2019.
Admissions to Kentucky’s prison have grown by 32 percent since 2012, and the population is projected to grow 19 percent over the next decade, adding more than 4,400 beds.
Much of that growth is fueled by drug addiction, and a criminal justice reform plan unveiled by Gov. Matt Bevin is designed to ease that pressure. It contains measures to steer addicts toward treatment and away from prison.
“This is the kind of thing that needs to be done,” Bevin said. “And Kentucky is doing it.”
Alaina Combs said she supports the plan because it would help people like her. She said she was in and out of jail dozens of times until she was offered treatment.
“Thanks to that, I never went back to jail,” Combs said
Rep. Jason Nemes (R-Louisville) is co-sponsor of the House version of the bill, which he said will help break the cycle of addiction, arrest and jail.
“Our jails just don't have the physical plant space to have programming," he said. "And that's what these people need more than anything. They don't need bars. They need programming."
A key proposal would reclassify first and second drug possession convictions to a misdemeanor instead of a felony. Another change would raise the felony theft threshold from $500 to $2,000. Another element would change the parole and bail systems to help non-violent offenders stay out of jail.
“We don't need to throw these people away, and that's all too often what we're doing in Kentucky,” Nemes said.
Part of the proposal is aimed specifically at the female inmate population, which has grown 54 percent in four years.
Sen. Julie Raque Adams (R-Louisville) has already filed a bill that would improve conditions for expectant mothers behind bars, including ensuring proper nutrition and prohibiting the shackling of pregnant inmates.
“There is little consideration of pregnant women and incarcerated mothers,” Adams said. “Kentucky is one of majority of states that still allows for the shackling of pregnant women even while they are giving birth.”
The reform proposal contains many of the recommendations from the Criminal Justice Policy Assessment Council appointed by Bevin.
Supporters said the plan will save the state nearly $600 million over ten years, money that can be used to support law enforcement, such as Kentucky State Police.
“This is all about public safety,” said Justice and Public Protection Secretary John Tilley. “When you siphon resources and allow Corrections to gobble up every bit of the public safety dollar, you cripple what the men and women in law enforcement need to do to protect us.”
Combs, who is now Continuing Care Coordinator for the Healing Place in Louisville, said the plan will save more than money. She said it will save families as addicts find the road to recovery as she did.
“I get to be a mother, and I get to be a productive member of society,” she said.
Versions of the plan are now making their way through the House and Senate.
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