Ninth-highest overall rate, second-highest female rate demonstrate necessity of criminal justice reform in 2018 session of General Assembly
New data from the federal agency charged with tracking criminal justice statistics around the nation reveals Kentucky’s incarceration rate is surging even though the nation’s incarceration rate declined for the third consecutive year. KY now has the ninth-highest incarceration rate in the nation according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics “Prisoners in 2016” annual report released on Jan. 10, 2018. In the 2015 report, Kentucky ranked eleventh-highest.
The Commonwealth’s female incarceration rate is more than two times the national average and now stands at the second-highest in America, compared with a fifth-highest ranking in 2015.
Kentucky is also sentencing prisoners at a fast clip. The Bluegrass State has the second-highest overall growth rate in the country at 6.1 percent. The percentage change of sentenced female prisoners was the third-highest at a troubling 13.7 percent.
“These startling numbers make passing bold criminal justice reforms even more urgent in this session of the Kentucky General Assembly,” said Daniel Cameron, Spokesman for the Kentucky Smart on Crime, a broad-based coalition working for common sense justice reforms comprised of partner organizations such as ACLU of KY, Catholic Conference of KY, KY Council of Churches, KY Chamber of Commerce, KY Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, KY Center for Economic Policy, Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions and KY Youth Advocates. “KY Smart on Crime is encouraged legislators are in the process of drafting legislation based on the CJPAC Justice Reinvestment Work Group’s 22 data-driven recommendations for reducing recidivism, holding offenders accountable and controlling our state’s rapid prison growth. In recent years, 31 states have decreased both their crime rates and their prison populations, Kentucky can do the same.”
The recommendations made by the work group, which was composed of a wide range of stakeholders, including legislators, judges, prosecutors, public defenders, a law enforcement representative, a jailer, a county judge-executive, a private defense attorney, the head of Probation and Parole, a victims’ advocate, and a business leader, are designed to enhance public safety, promote community and family, and more effectively treat drug and alcohol addiction. The work group found that much of the prison growth in recent years was due to low-level non-violent offenses. The work group also estimates Kentucky’s prison population growth will cost taxpayers an additional $600 million over the next decade if changes are not made.
“Under Governor Bevin’s leadership, Kentucky has made strides in 2017 with the passage of Senate Bill 120, which strengthens reentry programs, and in 2016 with felony expungement measures,” said Cameron. “2018 is the most critical year yet. Kentucky’s jails and prisons are bursting at the seams, and stark budget realities are here. We must better focus our prison and jail resources on serious and violent offenders. We will be sorry if we aren’t making better differentiation because the dollars simply aren’t there to lock up more Kentuckians.”