Diverse Coalition to Drive Common Sense Criminal Justice Reform in the Commonwealth

Reforms Will Save Tax Dollars, Help Economy and Make Communities Safer

Well-established Kentucky business, economic, faith-based and civil rights organizations announced January 13, 2016 that they have formed a coalition – called Kentucky Smart on Crime – to advocate common sense criminal justice reforms in the Commonwealth.

The coalition consists of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, ACLU of Kentucky, Catholic Conference of Kentucky, Kentucky Council of Churches, Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky Center for Economic Policy and Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

“To see groups that are often on opposing sides in public policy matters come together to support this common cause is a testament to the significance and urgency criminal justice reform has taken in this country,” Kentucky Smart on Crime spokesman Russell Coleman said.

Coleman has an extensive background in law enforcement and prosecution, serving under two Attorneys General and working as an FBI special agent. He was temporarily assigned to the National Joint Terrorism Task Force and volunteered for a 2007 assignment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The new coalition will focus much of its efforts during the 2016 General Assembly on policies that facilitate reentry into society after individuals who have been incarcerated have served their time and paid all restitution and associated costs.

“Removing government-imposed barriers to reentry saves tax dollars, helps our economy and keeps our communities safer,” Coleman said. “When these individuals can’t get jobs or reintegrate into their communities, they very often return to crime, return to harming victims, return to prison and become a burden on taxpayers.”

The coalition is expected to support legislative reform that would allow individuals to seek to have certain Class D felonies expunged after a period of time. Almost 100,000 Kentuckians could benefit from such legislation.

“We strongly support efforts on the felony expungement issue because Kentucky employers need access to the tens of thousands of low-level, non-violent offenders who have turned their lives around,” Kentucky Chamber President and CEO Dave Adkisson said. “We look forward to working with other groups to craft a bill we can all support.”

Progressive organizations like the ACLU of Kentucky, which has been instrumental in forming the coalition, have worked for years to advance simple, straightforward reforms that better align the criminal justice system with American values of fairness and justice, ACLU-KY Program Director Kate Miller said.

“Felony records erect unnecessary barriers to housing, education, employment and civic participation, which are all essentials for stability, and stability is an important step toward stronger, safer communities across the Commonwealth,” she said.

For decades, the Catholic bishops of the United States, along with many other voices in the faith-based community, have been calling for a justice system that emphasizes not only punishment but also restoration and rehabilitation, Catholic Conference of Kentucky Executive Director Jason Hall said.

“When someone has committed a non-violent crime and served his or her time, it is entirely counterproductive to saddle that individual with a permanent inability to find a good job and prevent them from being fully restored to the community,” he said.

Kentucky’s two prominent think tanks both joined the coalition. Both groups – the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions and Kentucky Center for Economic Policy – support efforts that help former low-level offenders find jobs and become productive citizens.

“Our coalition’s efforts will save taxpayer dollars, remove obstacles for individuals who need and deserve that help, open up new workforce opportunities for businesses and support policymakers who want to do the right thing,” Jim Waters, president of the free-market think tank Bluegrass Institute, said. “It’s good policy and good politics combining to make a real difference.”

You can track the coalition’s work on Facebook or Twitter.

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