Criminal justice reform bill passed by Senate

02/24/2017 02:41 PM

FRANKFORT – A bill designed to lift some employment barriers for felons in hopes of keeping them from reoffending was overwhelmingly passed by the Kentucky Senate on Friday by a 35-1 vote.

Senate Bill 120, sponsored by Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, would also allow Class C and D felons on probation or parole to earn compliance credit and establish re-entry programs, among other items.

Other language in the bill gives occupational licensing boards the freedom to decide whether a prior offense should preclude an individual from obtaining a license. A board could deny a license if its members saw fit and a fair appeals process would be established. But a denial would not be automatic, as it is now.

Westerfield said the legislation is the result of the work of the 23 member Criminal Justice Policy Assessment Council, which was organized by Gov. Matt Bevin in June 2016 to come up with recommendations to change the criminal code in the state.

The 23 members of the council included lawmakers from both parties, judges, prosecutors, police, clergy and business leaders.

Westerfield says the legislation leads to positive outcomes on several fronts.

“It does improve public safety, it holds offenders accountable, and it helps create opportunities for successful reentry for these folks back into our communities,” Westerfield said.

Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, is a retired law enforcement officer who had major concerns about the bill, but wound up supporting the legislation after filing amendments that eliminated Class C felons from work release eligibility.

“There was time during my career in law enforcement that I never would have been willing to even consider something like this,” Carroll said. “My philosophy was lock them up and throw away the key because that’s where they need to be. At this point, where we are in society, it’s very obvious to me and to most people that criminal justice reform is needed and necessary in our state.”

Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, believes that one of the biggest obstacles for released felons to keep from returning to prison is having the ability to get meaningful employment.

“It’s my understanding that we 24,000 individuals incarcerated, not to mention the cost associated with that,” Neal said. “The thing that troubles me and has troubled me for a long time is that those same people, most of whom will return to their communities. The question is whether or not they will be prepared to be accepted by society, reintegrate into society and become productive citizens. I think this bill is a step in that direction.”

SB120 moves on the House for their consideration.


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