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Rising Prison Populations Call for Penal Code Reform

It is no secret that there is a massive issue with overpopulation in many of Kentucky’s prisons. In fact, actual prison population numbers across Kentucky have been significantly higher than consensus projections for many years and show no signs of slowing down any time soon. Much of this over-population is a direct result of low parole rates, long sentences, and strict second-offender laws in the state of Kentucky. Recently, Governor Matt Bevin announced that a Criminal Justice Policy Assessment Council will be created to work toward penal code reforms that are so clearly needed to reduce incarceration rates state-wide and free up funding for other public needs.

Contributing Factors to Overpopulation

The main contributing factors to prison overpopulation in the state of Kentucky include mandatory minimum laws, low parole rates, and long sentences for lesser crimes. In terms of parole rates, in 2016 the parole rate among prisoners in Kentucky dropped nearly 20% from the same point in 2015. This equates to nearly 2,500 additional people remaining in prison who would have otherwise been eligible for parole. Why are these prisoners being denied parole? Many of them are technically eligible, but are denied for reasons that are not yet entirely understood.

Furthermore, Kentucky’s Persistent Felony Offender law automatically creates a much longer sentence for someone who has committed more than one felony—even if that felony is something like failing to pay child support or writing a bad check. As a result, prisoners are ending up with extremely long sentences without the possibility for parole, thus contributing even more to the state’s already out-of-control prison population.

Overpopulation in state prisons doesn’t just affect those who are incarcerated; families must also share the burden. In fact, about 13% of all children in the state of Kentucky have had at least one parent in prison at some point in their lives. This is the highest number in the entire country and is representative of the major problem with state prison populations caused by outdated penal codes.

Working Toward Penal Code Reform

Fortunately, Kentucky’s governor has recognized the problem and is working toward a solution that begins with the formation of this new Criminal Justice Policy Assessment Council. This Council will be focusing on revising existing penal codes to reduce overpopulation in prisons while still keeping the public safe. One specific area of reform that is expected is in state parole codes. Specifically, reform may make it easier for those considered as “low risk” offenders to receive parole. It is also possible that the state’s existing Persistent Felony Offender law will be revisited, though only time will tell what specific changes may be made.

Ultimately, most people can agree that the state’s current penal code is creating more problems than solutions. Overpopulation in the state’s prisons leads to a waste of funding and resources that could be better spent elsewhere. At the same time, many would agree that low risk criminals should be eligible for parole and have the opportunity to return to the public. The challenge will be striking a balance while reforming these codes to keep the public safe and at the same time save the state money and free up space in prisons. Hopefully, the new Council will make the right decisions with the best interests of Kentucky’s citizens in mind.

Based in New Albany, Indiana, Church, Langdon, Lopp, Banet Law proudly serves communities throughout Kentucky and Indiana including, but not limited to, Jefferson County, KY; Floyd County, IN; Clark County, IN; and Harrison County, IN. Contact us by calling (812) 725-8224 or using our online form.

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