Will Penal Code Reform Happen in Kentucky?

December 7th, 2017 by Attorney Dan Carman

Changing Kentucky’s criminal laws to be more fair and sensible in order to provide greater opportunities for those on the edges of our society and to prevent the spiraling costs of our justice system can’t happen fast enough. Some progress has been made, but our conservative “law and order” state legislature won’t change any time soon.

The state’s Criminal Justice Policy Assessment Council (CJPAC) was formed in June of last year, according to the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy. It was formed by the governor to start working toward reforms to get control over the state’s rapidly rising inmate population. As this population continues to grow, fewer resources will be available to meet Kentucky’s critical needs. Leading to this increase are low parole rates, long prison sentences required by mandatory-minimum laws and high rates of recidivism.

Those needlessly spending time behind bars and their families are not the only ones who are suffering. Kentucky’s taxpayers are picking up the tab for a bloated, expensive corrections system. Costs more than doubled from $140 million in 1990 to $440 million in 2010. Last year’s corrections budget was more than $500 million.

This year Senate Bill 120, which was the result of CJPAC’s work, passed. It’s not a wide-ranging reform proposal. Instead it takes some first steps to help encourage convicts’ successful reentry into the community. These are some of the areas it addresses:

  • Making it possible for those with records to get occupational licenses in limited situations
  • Continued incarceration of inmates who owe large fines or court costs because they can’t afford to pay
  • Day reporting programs and reentry centers
  • More work opportunities for inmates while incarcerated.

The bill doesn’t include “big ticket” reforms, so it won’t reduce the prison population or corrections costs much. According to WFPL, wider ranging reforms were proposed but didn’t make it through the political process, including:

  • “No money bail,” which would allow those of low income charged with some crimes to be released from jail before trial if they can’t afford to pay bail. The program wouldn’t have applied to those accused of violent, sexual, felony DUI or domestic crimes, or to those thought to be of high risk of not appearing for a court date. Opponents stated this approach would have too great an impact on enforcement of drug crimes.
  • Raising the amount stolen to be considered felony theft from $500 to $2,000 and increasing the amount of missed child support payments to be charged with a felony from $1,000 to $5,000.

Meaningful penal code reform won’t be happening in Kentucky for the foreseeable future, so don’t count on the political system to soften criminal penalties. If you or loved one is being investigated for criminal law violations in Kentucky, discuss the situation with criminal defense attorney Dan Carman, founder of the Lexington, KY-based Carman Law Firm. From arrest to appeal, he has the necessary expertise to effectively maneuver your case through the criminal process. Call today at 859-838-1415 or fill out this convenient online form for a free initial consultation.