Lawmakers call for juvenile justice changes to mirror success of 2011 changes that are working

09/25/2013 03:47 PM

Sweeping reforms made in 2011 to the states penal code are paying off by saving the corrections system money. And that success is paving the way for the next round of juvenile justice reforms, officials said Wednesday.

The General Assembly overwhelmingly approved reforms to sentencing and probation through House Bill 463 in 2011. Lawmakers as well as law enforcement, judicial and community leaders said in a press conference that their work is paying off for taxpayers.

Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary J. Michael Brown said the prison population in Kentucky has dramatically decreased in Kentucky since the bill was passed.

“Were it not for (HB) 463 and their efforts right now, our prison population would be probably somewhere near 24,000. We were credited by Pew (Charitable Foundation) in 2008 as having the fastest growing prison population by percentage in the country,” Brown said. Kentucky’s prison popluation has shrunk from a high of more than 22,000 to about 20,000 inmates.

The decrease in prison populations puts Kentucky on track to save more than $400 million by the end of the decade.

While Kentucky is scooping up a cost savings through pretrial release and early release for eligible prisoners, the rate of recidivism is also decreasing. The figures show that 3,500 fewer people re-offended while on pretrial release this year.

More inmates also are receiving substance abuse treatment thanks to cost savings, and Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, said that was one of the law’s main goals.

Brown said the evidence is in on HB 463. It has produced “a lower felon population, decrease in recidivism, more offenders in treatment, and no spike in crime,” he said.

Meanwhile, the reforms will likely continue in Kentucky. A task force has already been implemented and the Pew Foundation will return to suggest reforms to the juvenile justice system.

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, said it’s time to refocus the philosophy from current reforms and use that on the juvenile justice system. For instance, he pointed to the similarity in the length of stay in detention centers for three groups of juvenile offenders: felons, those charged with misdemeanors and those who violated the law by virtue of their age for underage drinking or habitual truancy.

“This is the most jarring statistic…in our juvenile population the average length of stay between all three of them varies by less than a month. We’re holding our violators on average within a month of the same amount of time as our felons. That’s ridiculous. That’s not at all getting the result we want to see in our youth here in Kentucky,” Westerfield said.

On average, Westerfield said, it costs $87,000 a year to house a juvenile offender.


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