Changes aimed at increasing treatment/supervision of offenders and altering drug charges

01/20/2011 07:10 PM

Better evaluation of convicts’ risk to the public, increased supervision of parolees and people on probation and the reworking of drug offenses are hallmarks of the package of reforms offered by a task force of leaders studying Kentucky’s corrections process.

The seven-member task force outlined its recommendations to a panel of state lawmakers this week after studying the options with help from the Pew Center on the States for the last eight months. The group included the Republican and Democratic chairmen of the legislative judiciary committees, the state Justice and Public Safety Cabinet secretary, Kentucky’s chief justice, a prosecutor, a defense attorney and a county official.

Among the specific proposals for the legislature to address are:

  • Conducting risk assessments to determine how dangerous to the public someone convicted might be.
  • Mandating supervision of parolees and people on probation
  • Trying a pilot program based on one in Hawaii that requires close monitoring of parolees by judges and parole officers and swift penalties for any violations by the parolees.
  • Using administrative caseloads to divert some offenders out of the trial system at the discretion of judges.
  • Sentencing individuals to probation for simple drug possession convictions.
  • Creating a scale of possession charges based on the quantity of drugs found.
  • Distinguishing between more serious charges of trafficking drugs and less serious instances of “peddling” drugs.
  • Reinvesting savings from the prison system into treatment.

The Pew Center on the States has worked with other states to revamp their corrections systems in the wake of rising costs and increasing prison populations.

Republican state Rep. Jerry Madden of Plano, Texas, testified Wednesday to a Kentucky legislative panel that the goal should be to address the one-third of the prison population that teeters between joining the cycle of incarceration and straightening out.

He said Kentucky is “probably wasting money on” those who will keep coming back to prison no matter what programs are implemented as well as those who made one mistake to land in prison but who will never be back.

Task force members say taking the steps will stem the rising cost of the prison system. State spending has skyrocketed from $140 million in 1990 to $440 million last year even as the crime rate in Kentucky remained lower than the national average.

Among the other troubling statistics leaders say they hope the changes could address are:

  • Kentucky’s prison population has grown 45% over the last decade.
  • It has grown 260% since 1985.
  • 25% of Kentucky prisoners have been locked up for drug-related offenses.
  • That compares to 20% of prisoners nationally who are incarcerated for drug offenses.

Rep. John Tilley, the Democratic House judiciary committee chairman and a task force member, said he’s hopeful the proposals will win bipartisan support. He said they shouldn’t be considered to be weakening Kentucky’s stance against crime but rather being “smart on crime.”

Some of the efforts may require additional money or diverted resources, such as to bolster the ranks of parole officers or pay for GPS monitoring. But Tilley said it should save Kentucky money in the long run if it cuts down on recidivism.

- Reporting by Ryan Alessi and Don Weber, video produced by Don Weber


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