criminal justice

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The Kentucky House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday that would raise the bar for what counts as felony theft in the state.

Under current law, stealing anything worth more than $500 in Kentucky can be charged as a Class D felony, meaning it is punishable with a prison sentence of one to five years, a fine and revocation of civil rights.

Anyone in Kentucky who has been convicted of a felony in Kentucky is stripped of their right to vote, hold office and own a gun for life.

But under House Bill 126, the felony theft threshold would rise to $1,000.

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A bill that would prevent some teenagers from automatically being tried as adults in the court system passed out of a committee in the Kentucky legislature on Thursday.

Senate Bill 36, the so-called “juvenile justice bill,” would do away with the state’s automatic transfer law, which requires minors age 14 or older to be tried in adult court if they are charged with a crime involving a firearm.

Sen. Whitney Westerfield is a Republican from Crofton and has sponsored versions of the measure for the last three years, saying that automatic transfer policies contribute to the overrepresentation of young Black people in the justice system.

Westerfield says instead of automatically sending the cases to adult court, judges would have the discretion of what to do.

Kyeland Jackson

Attorney General Daniel Cameron has created a task force to review Kentucky’s search warrant policies in the wake of the Breonna Taylor shooting.

The announcement comes more than 10 months after Louisville police shot and killed Taylor in her apartment while executing a search warrant related to a drug investigation. No drugs or cash were found at the apartment.

Cameron said the task force fulfills a promise he made “to develop best practices for the effective and safe execution of search warrants.”

“We’ve assembled a group representing every aspect of the search warrant process to conduct a top to bottom review and provide recommendations. Our goal is to establish Kentucky as a national model for how search warrants should be pursued and executed,” Cameron said in a statement.

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The Kentucky Supreme Court has issued new coronavirus restrictions that will affect courts across the state, including the delay of all jury trials until February.

The mandates come as Kentucky continues to experience a surge in new coronavirus cases. As of Thursday, the state had broken its daily record for new cases four times in the previous nine days.

Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John Minton wrote in a statement that courts need to restrict activities to protect the public and staff from exposure to the virus.

“People can choose whether to eat at a restaurant or go shopping, but in most instances they don’t get to choose whether they go to court. We have a responsibility to do all we can to keep people from being exposed to a potentially fatal virus,” Minton wrote.

J. Tyler Franklin

A group of women with ties to Kentucky’s Green River Correctional Complex is urging Gov. Andy Beshear to release more inmates amid the pandemic. A dozen women calling themselves “Prison Wives of Green River Correctional Complex” gathered outside the governor’s mansion and the Kentucky Capitol on Saturday afternoon, carrying homemade signs and wearing T-shirts with pictures of their loved ones who are behind bars.

As of May 22, 357 inmates and 50 staff members have tested positive for the coronavirus at Green River, a state prison in Muhlenberg County. Three men have died, although the state says the exact cause of death for one of those men is still pending.


Gov. Andy Beshear signed an executive order last week releasing 186 inmates from state prisons who were vulnerable to the coronavirus. Advocates are calling on the state to take similar steps to protect juveniles who are incarcerated.

The ACLU of Kentucky has sent a letter to Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice Commissioner LaShana Harris, asking her to release as many children as possible, and publicly share the department’s emergency response plan for addressing the pandemic.

“Even in the best of circumstances, infection control presents a significant challenge in these situations because incarcerated youth…often congregate in large groups and live [in] communal settings with shared bathrooms, dining areas, and more,” the letter reads.


Thousands of inmates held in county jails have been released since the Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice issued an order last week effectively closing the courts, according to data provided by the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy.

The order to close the courts came in response to the spreading COVID-19 disease. In response to the order, the state’s public advocate, Damon Preston, called for defendants held on cash bail be released. On Friday, Preston praised his department’s efforts to secure the release of more than 3,200 inmates from county jails — marking a 28 percent reduction in the state’s county jail population.


Kentucky is one of many states facing overcrowded jails and surging costs for holding those inmates. State lawmakers are considering some minor efforts to reform the commonwealth’s criminal justice system.

One bill in the Kentucky General Assembly would make it easier to transfer state prisoners to jails that are at, or below, 150 percent capacity.


Ashley Spalding, a research director for the left-leaning Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, said while the transfer bill could bring down overcrowding at different times, it doesn’t address the true causes of the problem.

Report: Kentucky Incarceration Rates Worst In Region

Dec 11, 2019

A report published last week found that Kentucky’s incarceration rates are the worst in its region, topping Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina. The report also found that Kentucky’s ranking is among the worst in the nation, and one expert said it is a sign the state is moving in the wrong direction.

The report, released by the New York-based nonprofit Vera Institute of Justice, used the most recent data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics and state agencies. It used that data to compare states’ incarceration trends by the size of their jail and prison populations, the rates of jail and prison admission, and the rates of pretrial incarceration.



A new report ranks Kentucky 9th in the nation for the rate at which counties hold residents in local jails. The state-by-state analysis aims to provide a more comprehensive picture of the effect local jails have. The report was produced by The Prison Policy Initiative, a non-profit group focused on criminal justice reform. 

The group analyzed results of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which compiles data on the health of individuals who have been arrested.


Kentucky LRC

Overcrowding has become a major issue facing Kentucky's county jails.

The most recently available numbers from the Kentucky Department of Corrections show county detention centers collectively are nearly 5,000 inmates over capacity.

We spoke with Justice and Public Safety Cabinet John Tilley about the causes behind and ways to address this situation.

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The Jefferson County Attorney’s office will no longer prosecute some of the lowest-level marijuana possession cases, County Attorney Mike O’Connell announced Wednesday.

He said the decision was a matter of equity and resource allocation.

“My focus as Jefferson County Attorney is not the tired old line of tough on crime. My focus is to help stop crime and to help prevent crime,” he said. “This use of discretion and the pursuit of fair and equal enforcement of the laws is part of that effort, working toward fairness and procedural justice.”

Colin Jackson

Time spent incarcerated or in rehabilitation centers is common when someone makes a mistake or needs to address substance abuse issues.

"Step down" services, however, aren't as common.

Those efforts provide a place for growth and a sense of community that helps soften the transition toward independence from a rough spot in life.

The Owensboro-based non-profit, Fresh Start for Women, is among those working to accomplish that goal.

Courtesy of Casey Haynes

Around 40% of Kentucky state inmates released in 2016 went back to jail within a couple years of getting out.

Most of those individuals went back to jail for breaking their terms of release rather than through committing a new crime.

Bowling Green business owner Casey Haynes could have been in that number. Instead, he recieved a break from the court. Now, he's making the most of that chance.

Haynes comes from Mississippi and describes himself as always having a strong parental figure in his mother.

He said he got into trouble after originally going to trade school for business management.

"I didn't do too well as far as working in that field. I ended up drifting off and doing some other things I wasn't interested in, and that led to being around...the wrong crowd of people," Haynes said.

Sarah Perrine

Everyone experiences prison time differently. To Sarah Perrine, who received a ten year sentence for a host of drug-related charges, it ended up being a life changing event.

She has the words "forgive" and "forget" tattooed on her neck. The motto suits her.

She's reconnecting with her daughter. She has a job at a local fast food restaurant where she recently received a promotion. And she's no longer one of the nearly 2,300 women currently in Kentucky's state prison system.

Instead, she's now part of the Southern Kentucky Reentry Council to make coming home easier for others.

If you ask her, that's all because of one moment she had while she was in solitary confinement.

Perrine describes it as "13 cells on one walk and everybody was just yelling and screaming constantly."