State has "torn away" at fabric of penal code, Justice Sec. John Tilley says

04/22/2016 10:28 AM

FRANKFORT — The set of laws defining crimes and the punishments for those crimes could soon get a facelift in the commonwealth.

A group of unlikely allies is setting their sights on reforming the state’s penal code, and now Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary John Tilley agrees that the code is out of balance.

“Since then we have added crimes of the day, boutique crimes, we’ve continued to chip away and we’ve eradicated, really torn away at the fabric of how the code worked,” Tilley said. “Everything had a relationship that was proportionate. It worked together so that when you changed one part of it and not another, you’ve knocked it out of kilter.

“Today, what you have is a real patchwork, and not a good one, of laws that makes up what is a penal code, and it absolutely does need reform.”

Where exactly advocacy groups, prosecutors, defense lawyers, judges, politicians and the cabinet end up on penal code reforms is still up for debate, but Tilley is suggesting the groups begin debate with the ideas they agree on and work from there.

One goal for Tilley is to keep public safety paramount, but he would also like to see a hard look at drug crimes. In Kentucky, Tilley said 80 to 90 percent of crimes committed are drug or drug-related crimes.

Reforming the code could also reduce the overall prison population in the state, something that would lessen the financial burden on the budget. Aside from education and healthcare, the criminal justice system is among the highest expenditures for Kentucky government.

If Kentucky were a country, it would have the seventh-highest rate of per-capita imprisonment in the world, Tilley said, referencing a recent report. The goal is to keep the public safe, but there are fiscal and rehabilitation components to consider as well, he said.

“When you save money, you can utilize those resources to reinvest in the system, to provide more resources for re-entry, for the programs we have. You can pay state troopers a better salary,” Tilley said. “You can reinvest in salaries for probation and parole.”

For every two people the state incarcerates, Tilley said that takes a teacher out of the classroom. In convincing Kentuckians penal reforms are smart to combat crime, there are also community and generational arguments in favor of reforms.

The next big task will be developing the overall package of reforms.

Watch the interview with Tilley here:

Nick Storm

Nick Storm is the Anchor and Managing Editor of Pure Politics available exclusively on Spectrum News. Pure Politics is the only nightly program dedicated to Kentucky politics. Nick covers all of the political heavyweights and his investigative work brings to light issues that might otherwise go unnoticed, like his coverage of the backlog of DNA rape kits waiting to be tested in Kentucky. Nick is also working on a feature length bio documentary Outlaw Poet: A documentary on Ron Whitehead. Pure Politics airs weeknight at 7 and 11:30 on Spectrum News. Follow Nick on Twitter @NStorm_Politics. Nick can be reached at 502-792-1107 or


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