Stalled in committee last week, criminal justice reform package moves to Senate floor on 9-1 vote

02/23/2017 02:04 PM

FRANKFORT — A criminal justice reform bill that failed to pass the Senate Judiciary Committee last week breezed through the panel with just a single vote in opposition on Thursday.

Senate Bill 120 passed the judiciary committee on a 9-1 vote and would lift some employment barriers for felons in hopes of keeping them from reoffending. The legislation would also allow Class C and D felons on probation or parole to earn compliance credit and establish re-entry programs, among other items.

The bill was amended the exclude Class C felons from work release programs and adjust membership of the state’s criminal justice council, and Sen. Whitney Westerfield, a Hopkinsville Republican who’s sponsoring SB 120, says he’s happy with the version that passed his committee, calling it “a solid piece of legislation.”

“I think it’ll improve public safety,” he said. “I think it’ll hold offenders accountable. I think it’ll reduce recidivism and reduce future crime. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, had been one of the more vocal critics of SB 120 last week, but he changed his mind after the legislation was altered. He offered amendments that eliminated Class C felons from work release eligibility.

“There is a certain level of discomfort with this,” he said. “I know that criminal justice reform is needed and necessary in our state, and I’m well aware of that. It’s the balance that I struggle with the most, but with these concessions I am at a comfort level with this bill.”

Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, also voted for the criminal justice reform bill with some hesitation.

She said she was dismayed that the judiciary committee had little input on the legislation, but she hopes SB 120 achieves everything supporters say it will without negative repercussions.

“I’m glad to see the concept, and I know it’ll be an evolutionary process,” she said.

“We already have prison industries. They made my office furniture, and I appreciate that program. I’m a little hesitant to allow private companies to perhaps profit on the backs of a population that’s confined, even though I am for every opportunity that we have to get those individuals back into the workforce and back with a feeling of self-worth.”

Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, was the only vote against SB 120.

While he said the legislation is much improved from its original version, it’s not something he can support.

“What concerns me about this bill is it adds to an already convoluted system where the public, they don’t really realize that when a jury gives somebody five years for a crime they actually only do about a fourth of that time,” Schickel said. “… I just don’t think it’s really in step with what the public wants.”

The bill now heads to the full Senate for a floor vote.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, has said he expects Senate Bill 120 will pass the General Assembly, and criminal justice reform supporters urged lawmakers to do just that.

Russell Coleman, spokesman for Kentucky Smart on Crime, called SB 120 “a good first step toward a smarter, more effective justice system that holds people accountable and provides a pathway back to a productive life for those who’ve served their time” while Holly Harris, executive director of the U.S. Justice Action Network, said her group is happy with the momentum SB 120 has generated.

“Now it’s time for the full Senate to send this to the House and for our state to pass reentry reforms that improve public safety and help Kentuckians leave prison with opportunity in front of them,” she said in a statement.


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