Legislature working to ease the burden on Kentucky prison system

Criminal justice reform is a prevalent issue in Kentucky politics as the overburdened correctional system achieves record-level spending and inmate populations. If the advocates for restructure succeed, the state could see a drop in prison sentences without a subsequent rise in crime statistics.

According to the Lexington Herald Leader, prison populations are at critical mass, and the correctional budget spending will top an estimated $675 million by the end of 2021. Legislators are debating at least a dozen new proposals in the current session, which could save millions in taxpayer liability.

Felony reform

The House Judiciary Committee is waiting to hear a bill that would allow juries to bypass mandatory minimum sentences for repeat felony indictments depending on the severity of the crime. For example, multiple arrests for shoplifting might no longer result in a prison term of five years or more.

Drug possession reform

One of the proposed changes is a reduction to a Class A or B misdemeanor for possession if law enforcement finds only a trace amount of drug residue on a person. A second, which could likely save corrections over a million dollars annually, would make marijuana possession of 100 grams or less a civil offense. Offenders would have to pay a fine, but would not receive a jail sentence.

Probation and parole reform

These bills would help the poverty-stricken who find themselves back in jail simply because they cannot afford the parole costs. The proposals waive the fees until they can pay and limit the jail terms for violations. There is also help for those incarcerated for addiction or mental-health-related crimes by allowing a reduced 90-day supervision period if they participate in and complete social reform programs.

There is not much time left in the current legislative session, but if at least a few of these bills can make it through to a vote, it would be a good start to ease undeservingly harsh penalties. An attorney can help explain these proposed changes as well as current options to those charged with non-violent crimes.