After success with expungement legislation unlikely allies might look at penal code reforms next

04/08/2016 08:57 AM

After nearly a decade of trying and failing to pass legislation which would allow for the expungement of non-violent, low-level class D felonies Rep. Darryl Owens got a push from an unlikely group of allies during the legislative session.

An organization which merged groups from both sides of the political spectrum engaged lawmakers in the upper chamber, and with the help of several key players inside the Senate caucus saw the issue clear both bodies of the General Assembly this session.

Kentucky Smart on Crime brought together organizations on the left and right including: The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Kentucky American Civil Liberties Union, Catholic Conference of Kentucky, the Kentucky Council of Churches, the Bluegrass Institute and the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy.

“These groups don’t agree on anything else, but the need to engage in these reforms,” Kentucky Smart on Crime spokesman Russell Coleman said of the push for expungement.

With the passage of the bill, and Gov. Matt Bevin indicating he will sign the bill into law, Coleman says outcomes will begin to change in the commonwealth.

“We’re going to be able to afford a limited class of former offenders a chance, after a crime free period … to get back to work, and you would hear these heart wrenching anecdotes, a chance to read Dr. Seuss in their kids class, a chance to pay into the system versus take out of the system,” he said.

Only small tweaks are likely to remain on the issue of expungement, and Smart on Crime will take a look at a “robust number” of potential priorities for the next legislative session. On the list to consider is lowering the rates of recidivism and reducing the cost of corrections, Coleman said.

“One of our mandates over the next year, between now and the next session, is look at a number of these tools in the tool box,” he said. “Look at what other states are doing, to address Kentucky’s recidivism.”

The rate of recidivism, or relapse into criminal behavior after criminal punishment, in Kentucky is currently 43 percent, the Kentucky Smart on Crime spokesman said.

The last time the penal code in Kentucky was addressed comprehensively was in 1974 when it was enacted by the legislature, since then the legislature has added and subtracted from the code via piecemeal in legislative sessions.

“We’re going to be taking a hard look, working with our governor, because our governor has made statements that he wants Kentucky to be the gold standard in criminal justice reform,” Coleman said. “That means, in his mind, that we get better outcomes that we afford second chances and that we save those finite dollars.”

“You have a governor that says, I want to act on this in the near term, you have a budget climate that demands it. The fact that we haven’t looked at our penal code during my life time, let’s take a hard look at this.”

Watch the full interview for Coleman’s take on the specifics of the expungement legislation and Coleman’s take on criminal justice reforms and actions taken by President Obama.


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