Justice reform coalition releases legislative goals

Sights set on reentry, expungement, and penal code changes, as well as strong investments in substance use disorder treatment

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ/Press Release) — Kentucky Smart on Crime, a coalition of 14 organizations dedicated to justice reforms in the Commonwealth, announced its 2022 agenda for the Kentucky General Assembly.  The group, which was established in 2016, has its sights set on reentry, expungement, and penal code changes, as well as strong investments in substance use disorder treatment.

“After a brief reduction due to temporary COVID-19 reductions, the Commonwealth is once again seeing prison and jail population growth,” said Carmen Mitchell, policy analyst for KyPolicy, a non-profit research organization and partner in the Smart on Crime Coalition. “However, lawmakers have the perfect opportunity in 2022 to make a real course correction that both enhances public safety and reduces the number of incarcerated.” continued Mitchell.

According to a recent report co-authored by Mitchell and several colleagues at KyPolicy, in the past 10 years, the General Assembly has passed 6x the number of bills to increase felony criminal punishment as it has measures to reduce prison populations.

The Smart on Crime Coalition’s 2022 policy recommendations to change this dynamic include:

  • A KEES Bill to broaden educational opportunities to those seeking 2nd chances by removing barriers to educational attainment via KEES scholarships.
  • Support for a $250,000 annual investment to provide those exiting the system with IDs to improve access to employment, housing, etc.− an expansion of a highly successful pilot in 8 state prisons and one county jail to the Kentucky’s entire correctional system.
  • Shortening the eligibility window for expungement from 5 years to 3 years.
  • Reclassifying simple possession from a Class D felony to a Class A Misdemeanor with an emphasis on diversion/probation and treatment for substance use disorder.
  • Strong investment in resources for recovery to improve public safety.

The General Assembly will need to pass a new budget for the next fiscal year beginning in July. The KY Department of Corrections enacted budget from the General Fund for 2022 was $626 million — a 72% increase from 2010 in actual terms. Over the same period, total General Fund expenditures are up 45%.

“Through a few modest reforms, we have seen some progress in reducing the state’s sky-high recidivism rate in the last five years, moving from an abysmal 44.5% to an improving, but still problematic 35.4%,” said Laela Kashan, staff attorney for Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs. “Those reforms were mainly focused on reentry, which is positive, but to make further progress in reducing harm and victimization, we have to pursue evidenced-informed strategies that impact people before they are involved in the criminal system and set people up for success in life, such as access to healthcare and community support.”

The 2022 session of the Kentucky General Assembly begins Jan. 4.

Kentucky Smart on Crime is a broad-based coalition working for common sense justice reforms that proactively address individual and systemic racial disparities and inequities, improve public health, enhance public safety, strengthen communities, and promote cost-effective sentencing alternatives.

Partner organizations include American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, Kentucky Council of Churches, Catholic Conference of Kentucky, Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs, Inc., Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Kentucky Youth Advocates, Volunteers of America Mid-States, Inc., NAACP Kentucky, Kentucky Criminal Justice Forum, and United Way of Kentucky. For more information, visit: kysmartoncrime.com or @kysmartoncrime on Twitter.

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