• 57°

Still too many inmates in Ky.

Just four years after the Kentucky General Assembly in a bipartisan vote enacted landmark reforms designed to curb its rapidly increasing prison population, the number of men and women behind bars in the state surged in 2016 even though the nation’s incarceration rate declined for the third consecutive year. That’s according to new data from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Kentucky has the ninth-highest overall incarceration rate and the second-highest female incarceration rate in the nation, according to the “Prisoners in 2016” annual report released last week. Kentucky was ranked No. 11 in 2015. The state’s female incarceration rate is more than two times the national average. Kentucky is also sentencing prisoners at a fast clip. The Bluegrass State has the second-highest overall growth rate in the country at 6.1 percent. The percentage change of sentenced female prisoners was the third-highest at a troubling 13.7 percent.

“These startling numbers make passing bold criminal justice reforms even more urgent in this session of the Kentucky General Assembly,” said Daniel Cameron, spokesman for the group Kentucky Smart on Crime, a broad-based coalition working with several partners in the state who are trying to reduce recidivism and control the state’s rapid prison growth. “In recent years, 31 states have decreased both their crime rates and their prison populations. Kentucky can do the same.”

The recommendations made by the work group, which was composed of a wide range of stakeholders, including legislators, judges, prosecutors, public defenders, a law enforcement representative, a jailer, a county judge-executive, a private defense attorney, the head of Probation and Parole, a victims’ advocate, and a business leader, are designed to enhance public safety, promote community and family and more effectively treat drug and alcohol addiction. The work group found that much of the prison growth in recent years was due to low-level non-violent offenses. The work group also estimates Kentucky’s prison population growth will cost taxpayers an additional $600 million over the next decade if changes are not made.

“Under Governor (Matt) Bevin’s leadership, Kentucky has made strides in 2017 with the passage of Senate Bill 120, which strengthens reentry programs, and in 2016 with felony expungement measures,” said Cameron. “2018 is the most critical year yet. Kentucky’s jails and prisons are bursting at the seams, and stark budget realities are here. We must better focus our prison and jail resources on serious and violent offenders. We will be sorry if we aren’t making better differentiation because the dollars simply aren’t there to lock up more Kentuckians.”

Kentucky Smart on Crime includes the ACLU of Kentucky, Catholic Conference of Kentucky, Kentucky Council of Churches, Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions and Kentucky Youth Advocates.

The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce is a leading advocate of prison reforms designed to lower the number of inmates behind bars. That’s not because the state’s leading pro-business organization supports releasing dangerous criminals from prison but because it recognizes that the rapidly rising cost of housing inmates in prisons – even those for relatively minor non-violent offenses – is taking money away from other essential program in the state.

We thought the changes designed to lower prison populations were enough, but we apparently were wrong, Clearly more needs to be done.

The Daily Independent