Kentucky 'Smart on Crime' coalition ready to engage legislature on felony expungement legislation

01/11/2016 03:51 PM

A group of unlikely allies is coming together to shape criminal justice legislation during the 2016 legislative session.

The newly formed group, which will hold a press conference later this week in Frankfort, will begin by pushing legislation aimed at removing a felony conviction for low level, class D non-violent felons five years after the completion of their sentences.

Russell Coleman, who is a lawyer with Frost, Brown, Todd, and former senior advisor and legal counsel to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, is the spokesman for the group.

Coleman describes the coalition as a merging of the biggest voices from the political right and left which includes: 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.

Among the reasons for the unlikely bedfellows is the rate of recidivism in the commonwealth, which hangs at around 40 percent at the three year mark.

“That equates to communities being less safe,” Coleman said. “We’re spending a massive amount of our resources not only on incarceration, but incarceration that doesn’t achieve the best outcomes.”

Not only does the group want to make Kentuckians safer, but they also are looking to save much needed dollars in the budget, all while ensuring businesses are matched with highly skilled employees — once unable to find high level employment because of a felony conviction.

“For too long our legislators and our policy makers have been faced with a binary choice…the either wanted to articulate and advocate for policies that were tough on crime on one end of the spectrum, or if they took any less posture they were viewed as
overly solicitous of criminals,” Coleman said. “Our argument and what we’ve seen in many other states, and what we want to replicate in the commonwealth — is it’s not that binary choice.”

Coleman says that lawmakers can be smarter on crime and get better outcomes that save the state money, and plug the savings back into law enforcement and education.

While the group recognizes that some individuals deserve to be locked behind bars, there are others that shouldn’t be in and out of the facilities.

On average, Coleman said it costs Kentucky $20,000 to house an inmate in correctional facilities. By giving the system additional tools, it can help keep those formerly locked up out of the system for good.

_Watch the full interview to see how Coleman says the group will advocate for the changes, and why passing an expungement bill is the top priority for the coalition. _


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