Standing today with legislative, law enforcement, judicial, community and state leaders, Rep. John Tilley (D-Hopkinsville) and others highlighted the mounting successes of House Bill 463, landmark legislation from 2011 that made sweeping reforms to Kentucky’s criminal justice system.
“When we began our work two years ago, with leaders from all branches of government, Pew Center officials and victim’s advocates, we believed we could make the public safer and save money. It was not always easy, but we knew we could do better, and today we have tangible proof that we are doing much better.”
In the first year of reform, no state throughout the South saw a steeper decline in its prison population than Kentucky, according to the Southern Legislative Conference. Since July 2012, Kentucky’s prison population has declined by more than eight percent, well below projections before reform. In the reform’s first year, serious crimes (murder, rape, robberies and assaults) dropped, and the state’s recidivism rate has declined by four percent, the lowest rate in years. Kentucky is on track to save more than $400 million by the end of this decade.
Governor Steve Beshear said, “I’m very proud that the bipartisan reform bill I signed into law in 2011 is having such profound impact on our jails and our communities. These reforms were not designed simply to reduce the growing number of inmates in our corrections system; rather, they were part of a holistic strategy to give citizens the tools they need to lead successful, productive lives in their communities. It’s clear that these strategies are working.”
Another important factor in House Bill 463’s success has been a marked increase in the number of available slots for inmate substance abuse treatment, which has jumped from 1,430 in 2007 to almost 6,000 this year.
More good outcomes are reported from the six months of mandatory supervision for eligible prisoners nearing the end of their sentence, which is helping them make a successful transition back into society. This alone has already saved the state more than $16 million.
“House Bill 463 required an extensive change in the culture of the court system,” Chief Justice of Kentucky John D. Minton Jr. said. “It’s gratifying that the legislation appears to be having the intended effect. Since the bill was implemented in 2011, the court system has documented increases in the pretrial release and public safety rates. This indicates that penal code reform is curbing the escalating costs of incarceration without jeopardizing public safety, all of which is good news for the people of Kentucky.”
Counties are also saving millions of dollars in pre-trial costs – which is drawing national attention – and Kentucky has been able to cut ties with private prisons, so resources can be consolidated further.
Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary J. Michael Brown said, “The measures we put into place in HB 463 were all evidence based, so it’s only fitting to benchmark the law’s performance on evidence. That evidence is in, and it’s irrefutable – a lower felon population, decrease in recidivism, more offenders in treatment, and no spike in crime.”
Senator Whitney Westerfield, (R-Hopkinsville), announced that the next challenge to be addressed will be the state’s juvenile justice code. By January suggestions for an ongoing legislative task force will be considered by the Kentucky General Assembly and could reflect some improvements similar to House Bill 463.
“We’re starting to see returns on the General Assembly’s leadership on the adult side, so the need to refocus and refine our approach to Kentucky’s children is clearer than ever,” Sen. Westerfield said. “The data inside Kentucky shows too much effort is spent on detaining youth, and data outside Kentucky consistently shows the success of meeting the needs of children and their families in their communities instead of merely relying on detention. Our children, often the ones most prone to fall through cracks in the system, are paying the price. I am excited about the work of the Juvenile Code Task Force and the good it will accomplish for Kentucky’s youth.”
“Kentucky citizens should be proud of both the leadership we are providing and our willingness to do even more,” concluded Tilley. “If state governments are the laboratories of democracy, as former U.S. Supreme Court Justice – and Louisville native – Louis Brandeis once said, it is vital that we continue to blaze the path forward for others to follow.”