Kentucky’s new Department of Corrections commissioner says one of his top priorities is reducing recidivism.
Jim Erwin said 34 of Kentucky’s jails and prisons are about 140 to 300 percent over capacity. Erwin said the opioid crisis is a major reason behind the overcrowding. He said the department is seeing an increase in people violating their parole for technical violations driven by drug use.
“We are basically the largest substance abuse treatment provider in the state. The department of corrections is,” he told WKU Public Radio.
Erwin said drug and property crimes make up seven of the ten most common crimes for people in department of corrections custody. He said the department provides programming during incarceration to reduce recidivism and is enhancing support for those who have been released. Erwin said they’ve also hired employment specialists to help people get a job when they get out of jail or prison. He said overcrowded jails are difficult to operate and result in high levels of stress on the officers.
“What we’re finding is the PTSD rates for correctional staff is as high if not higher than returning combat vets,” he told WKU Public Radio.
Erwin said the department has implemented some stress management and traumatic event debriefing programs. He began his career as a corrections officer in 1985.