Criminal justice reform must happen, governor says

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) - Gov. Andy Beshear says criminal justice reform is needed since prison costs and the number of those incarcerated is increasing, while at the same time the prison infrastructure is crumbling.


During a Friday afternoon press conference at the Capitol, Beshear said, “Criminal justice reform isn’t just the right thing to do, but we must do it based on our current reality and its impact on our budget.”


He noted Kentucky’s prison population has increased 40 percent since 2004.  It stands at 23,880 and is projected to reach 24,566 by 2022.  12,310 inmates are housed in state prisons and 11,570 state inmates are in county jails.


The state prison system has 12,563 beds, including 866 at the Lee Adjustment Center, a private facility, and 656 at the Southeast State Correctional Complex in Wheelwright, which the state is leasing from the same company that operates the Lee facility.   


“We have a growing incarceration rate with very limited options on increasing the number of beds,” he said. “But that’s not the entire challenge, we have crumbling facilities.  In fact, we have lost 1,269 medium security beds in the last four years alone.  That’s astounding.”


At the Kentucky State Reformatory in Oldham County, 995 beds have been lost, with 274 more at Blackburn Correctional Complex in Lexington, due to deterioration at those facilities.


He says the estimated cost increases to maintain operations through the 2022 fiscal year, is $115 million.


“Year in and year out, the costs are going up and they’re going up at a level that is taking dollars away from important critical needs like our children’s education and health care,” Beshear said  “We could do all-day kindergarten in a year for about $90 million.  And every superintendent I’ve talked to said if we could do all-day kindergarten, they could fund a full year of Pre-K.”


Another issue is the location of state prisons, resulting in difficulty keeping staff.  He cited the three in Oldham County as an example.


Beshear says other states have had criminal justice reform while reducing crime rates.  He wants to see reform in Kentucky that includes:


--Reducing the incarcerated population


--Decreases recidivism and revocation of probation and parole


--Addresses the racial bias and racism in the justice system


--Provides meaningful addiction treatment and recovery services


--Consolidates some prison institutions.


“If our incarceration rate lowers by 1,000 inmates from that 23,000, we save $12 million,” he said.  “Those are real dollars that that can go to the needs of our Commonwealth. 


Beshear will outline his proposed budget during an address to a joint session of the General Assembly on Jan. 28.

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