Criminal Justice Reform legislation likely in 2019

10/12/2018 12:59 PM

As Kentucky prisons continue to fill with low-level non-violent offenders—Several criminal justice reform bills will likely be taken up during the 2019 legislative session, after a broad reform package stalled last year.

State Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, says they will be introducing pieces of that broader package that includes reducing nonviolent crimes, like drug offenses, from felonies to misdemeanors and reducing the felony threshold for shoplifting. It also would have required pre-trial release from jail without bond. Bail reform is something Rep. Nemes says will be tackled this upcoming session.

“That gives relief to our local counties,” he said.

Nemes says eyewitness reform will also be a key issue discussed. Nemes said many overturned convictions are due to a faulty eyewitness report.

“We need to make sure when we have an eyewitness that that is reliable, and not tainted by the process in anyway,” he said. “So we are going to take a number of aspects of the bigger bill and try to get those through this year.”

Nemes says getting criminal justice reform on a federal level will only make passing it on state level easier. The U.S. Senate could be taking up a criminal justice bill known as the First Step Act in the coming months. Nemes says Kentucky Senators Rand Paul and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have been advocates for the reform.

“This is an effort that Kentuckians can be proud of. Sen. Rand Paul has been a leader on this issue for a long time now. Before he was even in the United States Senate,” said Nemes.” And when Senator McConnell calls this bill, we can be very proud Kentucky had a leadership role in improving our criminal justice system.”

McConnell announced Wednesday, he would call the First Step Act if he had the sixty votes in the Senate to pass it. The measure would make it easier for prisoners to be released early if they complete certain education, training or other reform measures. Most of the offenders targeted with this early release, would be non-violent drug offenders.

“This is really important because, we need to be smarter with what we are doing with criminal justice and we need to refocus our efforts on, and our scarce criminal justice resources on the bad people, the people who are scary, the people who are dangerous to us,” Nemes said. “The rest of the folks we need to rehabilitate and get them back into our neighborhoods.”

As the opioid epidemic continues to ravage the country, prisons are overflowing. In Kentucky, where there is a high scourge of addiction, prisons are quickly running out of room. Lawmakers have suggested these offenders should be sent to treatment centers, instead of prisons. A bill to do this stalled last session—as a result, Nemes says treatment centers are being underutilized in the state. Many treatment centers report having empty beds.

“That’s a problem with logistics.That’s a problem, I think, with morality,” said Nemes. “I think it’s immoral that we have treatment beds in Kentucky that are unused, at a time when we have a drug pandemic in Kentucky.”

Nemes says the Bevin Administration and Justice and Safety Secretary John Tilley are working to tackle this issue.

Criminal Justice reform has been a topic widely discussed throughout the country. The University of Louisville held a panel on Wednesday discussing the best practices to reform criminal justice both federally and locally. The panel included former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Fox News Contributor Jason Chaffetz, Sadiqa Reynolds, the president and CEO of the Louisville Urban League, and Brett Tolman, the former U.S. Attorney who prosecuted the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping case. Jason Nemes moderated the panel. It was a packed room for the discussion, and not everyone agreed with topic of conversation, but Nemes says its an important conversation to have.

“Criminal justice reform is not soft on crime, that’s the attack on it. Criminal justice reform is actually harder on crime in my opinion, because it frees up the resources to go after people who are dangerous,” said Nemes.

The 2019 session starts January 8.

Michon Lindstrom

Michon is a producer for Pure Politics. Michon comes to Kentucky from Springfield, Illinois where she served as the statehouse reporter for the NBC affiliate. During her time in the Land of Lincoln she covered the state’s two year budget impasse and the largest school funding overall in Illinois history. Pure Politics airs weeknights at 7 and 11:30 on Spectrum News. Follow Michon on Twitter at @MichonLindstrom or reach her by email at


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