Lawmakers say it's too early to tell if 2011 prison reforms will reach goals

01/31/2013 06:49 PM

Changes in sentencing and probation made in 2011 have saved Kentucky’s corrections system millions of dollars, but lawmakers said Thursday it’s too soon to know if the reforms will have the sweeping long-term effects that legislators intended.

The Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary revisited the effects of the corrections reform in House Bill 463 that passed two years ago.

Corrections officials testified that preliminary numbers showed the cost of Kentucky’s prison system did drop slightly. But the new Senate Judiciary Chairman Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, said he believes more time is needed to fully weigh how effective the law is.

“I’d like to see more of a, more of a reliable pattern in the data that we got showing that 463 was doing what it was intended to do,” said Westerfield, a former assistant prosecutor.

The reforms, which passed under the bi-partisan leadership of former Republican Sen. Tom Jensen of London and Democratic Rep. John Tilley of Hopkinsville, focused on steering non-violent offenders out of prisons and into more probation and parole programs. The goals, Tilley and Jensen said at the time, were to reduce the prison population — and thus the Department of Corrections’ ballooning budget — while encouraging more non-violent offenders to return to being productive citizens.

But Chris Cohron, legislative director of the Kentucky Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Association, said Thursday he would like to see lawmakers give more consideration for the victims of crimes.

“A lot of the focus of House Bill 463 was toward the defendants, their treatment their release, their evaluation there of,” Cohron said. “I have prosecutors all over the state tell me we hope now the pendulum will go to, let’s start looking at the concerns, to me, the most important part of the criminal justice system and that’s the victim’s of the crime.”

According to data from the Kentucky Department of Corrections, 3,627 offenders have been released to Mandatory Reentry Supervision (MRS) as of December 1, 2012. Of those, 556 offenders have had their parole revoked after having the Kentucky Parole Board found they violated terms of the supervision program.
The overall recidivism rate is 15.3 percent since January, 2012.


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