Scott proposes different prison path for low-level felons with drug addictions

04/24/2015 02:50 PM

LA GRANGE — Republican gubernatorial candidate Will T. Scott proposed a sizable shift in Kentucky’s corrections system on Friday, suggesting the state build more minimum-security prisons, enhance partnerships with drug courts and finance involuntary imprisonment for drug addicts.

Roederer Correctional Complex in La Grange served as a backdrop for Scott, a former Kentucky Supreme Court justice, as he unveiled his criminal-justice plan.

“This is where every felony inmate starts out in Kentucky, and this is where their prison paths are assigned,” Scott said. “For our prison system to play a greater role, a more effective role in protecting Kentuckians and making Kentucky safe again, we have to change these prison paths.”

A successful prison system, Scott said, either changes inmates’ behaviors or keeps them behind bars. Scott’s unsure of an ultimate price tag on his plan, but diverting low-level addicts to state drug courts rather than prison is expected to cost far less than incarceration.

Those who fail in drug court would be sent to new minimum-security facilities, where inmates would receive addiction counseling, education and vocational training. Scott said he anticipates minimum-security prisons would cost about $6,500 per bed compared to medium-security’s $100,000 per bed.

Expanding Casey’s Law, which allows families to have drug-addicted members involuntarily sent to treatment at their own expense, is also key to Scott’s proposal. He would shift the cost from families to the state and send addicts to the minimum-security prisons outlined in his plan.

“I think we’ve got a resource that we missed,” said Scott, who said he has pushed similar proposals since running for attorney general in 1995. “It’s a resource we now recognize that we’ve got to help and save ourselves to make ourselves safe because we want to get back to the Kentucky that was safe.”

Scott also suggested the creation of a court-fee-based certified worker’s fund, which would reimburse businesses for any damages or losses caused by certified former felons as well as making some felonies eligible for expungement after a waiting period.

He spoke briefly with five inmates on landscaping duty near the complex’s entrance, who sounded supportive of Scott’s proposal. The prison would not allow reporters to film or identify the incarcerated.

Scott said he supported lawmakers’ efforts to address the rising heroin epidemic, although he said he would have liked to see a better mix of Democrat and Republican ideas.

When asked about any outreach proposals that didn’t involve the prison system, such as needle-exchange programs made available in this year’s heroin bill, Scott said external treatment options exist and can be reached through Casey’s Law for up to 360 days.

“But just let me tell you, I’ve spent upwards of $17,000 for a 90-day treatment in Mississippi for some family members,” Scott said. “It’s a great program in Hattiesburg, Next Step, but that same treatment is $17,000 years ago. It costs $67,000 today. Kentucky’s families can’t afford this.”

Scott, never one to let a chance to politick slip, asked the five inmates to call or write their families and tell them to vote for him in the May 19 GOP primary.

While he’s in the gubernatorial race to win, Scott hopes his candidacy raises awareness for issues such as criminal justice reform. With $112,176 in his campaign coffers, Scott is poised to spend the least in a daunting uphill battle against well-funded candidates Hal Heiner, James Comer and Matt Bevin.

“If I do nothing else, I hope I bring attention to this and I bring a message that Kentucky needs to hear,” he said.

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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