Prisons

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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.


Prison overcrowding has increasingly become part of the national conversation. Meanwhile, states are trying to do more to keep ex-offenders from going back to jail after completing their sentences.

Recidivism has several negative consequences, including state spending on housing inmates and the fact that potential members of the workforce are unavailable.

This is the first story in a four-part series of reports about efforts to combat the trend in our region.


Lisa Autry

Kentucky’s chief justice of the Supreme Court says he expects bail reform to come up again in the state legislature. 

John Minton Jr. says the current method of setting bail disproportionately affects low-income defendants who aren’t able to pay for release after being charged with low-level, non-violent offenses. 

Minton addressed members of the Bowling Green Noon Rotary Club on Wednesday.

Despite legislation failing to pass the General Assembly this year, he said going to a cashless bail system has bi-partisan support.

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Kentucky’s top corrections official says staying out of prison could be as easy as having a job for some former inmates.

The state is developing a partnership between prisons and industries in hopes of both decreasing recidivism and filling vacant jobs.  Under the initiative, industries would move some operations to prison grounds, and provide training and near private sector wages to inmates.

A felony record often shuts former inmates out of the job market and that increases their chances of committing more offenses and returning to jail.  

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As Kentucky’s drug overdose and incarceration rates continue to surge, some are renewing the call for the state to reform its criminal justice system and increase opportunities for drug treatment.

Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary John Tilley said the number of people in Kentucky’s prison system surpassed 25,000 for the first time this year.

“We’re constantly trying to keep the tourniquet applied because we’ve let it get this bad as a state,” Tilley said at a legislative hearing at Lake Barkley State Resort. “That’s the problem, there’s so much deferred maintenance, so much neglect of facilities throughout the state.”

Jennifer Dennis came from a family of correctional officers, and, as a single mom, she was grateful for her good-paying job at Little Sandy Correctional Complex in rural northeastern Kentucky.

But then her supervisor took an interest in her — and she said her dream job quickly became a nightmare.

"At first, it was like rubbing my butt, or trying to grab my boobs, or trying to pinch my tail," she said.

But then, she said, Sgt. Stephen Harper began to get more aggressive. Once, he barged through the door as she was exiting a staff bathroom.

Rhonda Miller

A Kentucky program to train shelter dogs so they have a chance to be adopted has reached a milestone.  Inmates at a Muhlenberg County prison have trained 1,000 canines in a project called 'Death Row Dogs.'

In a bright sunny room at Green River Correctional Complex, 12 dogs are sitting beside their trainers. It’s week 11 of a 12-week program called 'Death Row Dogs.'

Allen Hearld says the lab mix named Snookie is the sixth dog he’s trained.  


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Kentucky is taking part in a new research program aimed at reducing the recidivism rate of the state’s prison inmates. Kentucky is one of four states participating in the project.

The Safe Streets and Second Chances program will be funded by the Koch Industries network. The project will begin in June with 200 randomly chosen inmates in Kentucky prisons. The program’s advisory board chair Mark Holden said the idea is to begin the process of preparing an inmate for reentry as soon as they’re incarcerated.


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Local groups are coming together to oppose a pending “anti-gang” bill and they are urging state lawmakers to kill the measure before the legislative session ends Saturday.

The bill, introduced Jan. 10, stiffens penalties for those engaging in gang activity or for committing a crime as part of a gang. The measure has passed the House and could be approved by the Senate as soon as Friday.

Bureau of Prisons

The Bureau of Prisons has issued a record of decision signaling that it is moving ahead with plans to build a federal prison on the site of a former strip mine in the hills of Letcher County, Kentucky. But local opponents of the prison say they’re not giving up and are considering a legal challenge to prevent the construction of a new prison.

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A study by a Campbellsville University professor finds Kentucky has a lack of standardized programs aimed at helping former inmates re-enter society.

 

The Kentucky Department of Corrections released more than 1,200 inmates in 2017. According to the report, two-thirds of those inmates will be rearrested within three years.

Dale Wilson is a professor at Campbellsville and author of the study. He said while there’s high participation in substance abuse programs, there’s a lack of programs that prepare inmates for getting a job once they’ve served their time.

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Kentucky’s Justice Secretary says he’s not giving up on criminal justice reforms becoming a reality during this year’s legislative session.

But John Tilley’s comments come as a reform bill is stalled in a House committee.

House Bill 396 is the result of suggestions made by a committee appointed by Governor Bevin to find ways to lower Kentucky’s incarceration rate, and increase opportunities for addicts to receive substance abuse treatment.

Kentucky Official: State Prisons To Run Out Of Space By 2019

Jan 30, 2018
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Kentucky’s top public safety official says the state’s prisons will run out of space by May 2019, possibly forcing the early release of thousands of nonviolent inmates as the state continues to grapple with the effects of a nationwide opioid epidemic.

Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary John Tilley told state lawmakers Tuesday the state’s prison population is expected to grow by more than 4,400 inmates over the next decade. His comments come as lawmakers are deciding how to spend taxpayer money over the next two years.

At the oldest prison in the U.S., on the west side of Indianapolis, Vanessa Thompson sat on a bunk in her cell, watching television. It was early 2015, the 17th year of her incarceration.

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A new poll shows Kentuckians overwhelmingly support prison time over capital punishment for people convicted of first-degree murder.

Findings from a recent poll by the University of Kentucky Survey Research Center show nearly 58 percent of people surveyed believe that lengthy prison terms, including life without parole, are preferable to the death penalty as punishment for conviction of first-degree murder.

Kentuckians also overwhelmingly support a halt to executions until problems with the state’s capital punishment system are addressed, according to the survey. More than 72 percent said they would support a decision by the governor to block executions until issues with the system could be addressed.

“It is important to note that this new poll shows that Kentuckians are increasingly concerned about the fairness of our criminal justice system,” said Marcia Milby Ridings, former president of the Kentucky Bar Association, in a news release.

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