KY chief justice confident reform proposals can make system more fair, efficient

01/20/2011 08:08 PM

Regardless of how many suggested reforms to the state’s corrections system come to fruition, Kentucky’s judges have received “an education” of more effective sentencing of defendants, Kentucky’s chief justice said.

Chief Justice John D. Minton was one of seven participants on a task force charged with recommending ways to overhaul the state’s increasingly costly and overcrowded corrections system to make it more efficient and fair. The task force made its recommendations Wednesday, and Minton said on Pure Politics Thursday that he’s confident the task force’s work will yield results.

For instance, one proposed reform would “add another tool for the sentencing judge” to better understand what type of punishment might be the best for someone convicted of a crime, he said.

“In other words, how successful would we be with other alternatives to incarceration and how that might influence the defendant’s return to the criminal justice system,” he said.

A large part of that is conducting more “risk assessments” of defendants and those convicted, as the task force recommended.

Watch Part 1 of the interview in which Minton talks about that and what he has done to lay the groundwork for the reforms with his fellow judges.

Another of the task force proposals would be to launch a pilot program similar to the Hawaii Opportunity Probation and Enforcement model. Under that program, judges and parole officers closely monitor parolees and swiftly impose penalties for any violations.

“Our judges in this state who have been working in drug courts for a long time understand the value of that,” Minton said. “In trying to modify behavior, a swift and certain punishment or sanction for conduct that doesn’t conform is important. It’s just as important in dealing with criminals as it is my two year old.”

Minton explains some of those other probation options, including the option of “administrative caseloads” in Part 2 of the interview.

Implementing many of those programs will require hiring of more parole supervisors and probation officers.

“I see no way around in increasing the investment in personnel … in the probation and parole departments,” Minton said. “Obviously there are pricetags involved. But this has been called all along a justice reinvestment.”

Minton also agreed with comments made by Democratic state Sen. Robin Webb of Grayson, who said she liked the package of suggested reforms but was concerned that some of the programs might not work in some rural areas.

“The rural population might again be prejudiced if you will … because we do not have those services in drug treatment beds, alcohol treatment. In some jurisdictions it takes weeks to get a simple DUI evaluation,” she said.

Minton said that will be a challenge that will be part of the “reinvestment.”

“Obviously the judges in urban areas have at their fingertips a great deal more in terms of resources,” he said.

Other reforms didn’t make it into this first round of proposals for the 2011 General Assembly.

The task force discussed other options, including creating a Class E felony for less serious infractions that carry lower penalties as well as options for expungement of criminal records.

Minton said in Part 3 of the interview that he was concerned momentum to get some of those reforms through the legislature might be lost now that the task force concluded its work on Wednesday.

- Ryan Alessi

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