Kentucky to Partner with the Pew Center on the States to Improve Public Safety, Contain Costs

Contact: Kerri Richardson | Jill Midkiff, 502.564.2611


Frankfort, KY - 08/11/2010 - The following press release was issued by the office of Gov. Steve Beshear, D-KY.

In support of the Commonwealth’s ongoing efforts to increase public safety and reduce the number of repeat criminal offenders, leaders from all three branches of government today announced a new partnership with the Pew Center on the States to develop strategies for reducing recidivism while holding offenders accountable and controlling corrections spending.  The goal of the partnership is to give the state a better return on its public safety investment by analyzing the prison population and associated cost drivers to develop tailored policy options that will generate savings that could be reinvested in evidence-based public safety measures.

Today’s announcement was made in a Capitol press conference with Gov. Steve Beshear; Senate President David L. Williams; House Speaker Greg Stumbo; Chief Justice John Minton; Senate Judiciary Chairman Tom Jensen; House Judiciary Chairman John Tilley; Justice and Public Safety Secretary J. Michael Brown; and Richard Jerome, Project Manager of the Pew Center on the States’ Public Safety Performance Project.

The Kentucky General Assembly signaled the state’s commitment to work with the Pew Center on the States when lawmakers created the Task Force on the Penal Code and Controlled Substances Act earlier this year. The task force, created at the urging of legislative Judiciary Committee chairs, includes members from all branches of state government. Lawmakers further demonstrated the state’s commitment to collaborate with Pew by approving $200,000 in the state budget for the justice reinvestment initiative to provide an in-depth analysis of problem areas in the state’s sentencing and corrections system.

Despite a decline in the prison population over the last two years, Kentucky has seen one of the nation’s fastest growths since 2000, growing 45 percent since then, compared to 13 percent for the U.S. state prison system overall.  Since FY 1980, the state’s prison population has grown 442 percent from 3,723 inmates to about 20,200 inmates in FY 2010.  To pay for this increase, total state spending on corrections in FY 2009 reached $513 million, up from $117 million in FY 1989.

Policy choices, not crime rates, have been largely responsible for this growth.  Since as early as 1960, Kentucky’s serious crime rate has been well below that of the nation and of other southern states.  Yet, the Commonwealth has a higher than average incarceration rate.  The 2009 incarceration rate in Kentucky (484 per 100,000 residents) is higher than the overall U.S. state incarceration rate (447 per 100,000 residents). The higher incarceration rates are true for both males and females.  In fact, Kentucky has the sixth highest incarceration rate for females.

“Prison is unquestionably the right place for chronic and violent offenders,” Gov. Beshear said. “But every dollar spent unnecessarily on prisons is a dollar not available for early education, higher education, health care or other public needs.”

State lawmakers said Kentucky will benefit from the input of the Pew Center on the States’ nationally recognized experts on public safety issues.

 “As national chairman of the Council of State Governments, I have collaborated closely with the Pew Center on the States as they have worked in several states to develop thoughtful sentencing and corrections policies that maintain the security of citizens and ensure the effective use of tax dollars,” said Senate President David L. Williams. “I appreciate their involvement in Kentucky and look forward to implementing their policy suggestions.”

House Speaker Greg Stumbo said, “We want to be certain that we’re getting the best possible return on our tax dollars. As Attorney General, I proposed risk assessment scorecards for offenders. We want nonviolent offenders to pay restitution and meet other obligations, like child support. Higher risk offenders need to be incarcerated.”

Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. said, “Kentucky’s criminal justice system functions every day in courtrooms across the Commonwealth. So I think it is essential that the judges’ perspectives be a part of these inter-branch conversations, which are aimed at finding more effective and efficient ways to preserve the rule of law in our state. Kentucky is fortunate that the nationally prestigious Pew Center on the States has chosen to assist us in this important work.”

“Across the country, states are recognizing the need to apply the cost-benefit test to their corrections budgets,” said Richard Jerome, project manager of the Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States. “Leaders in Kentucky are committed to a bipartisan, collaborative effort to develop solutions and policies that improve public safety at a lower cost to taxpayers.”

Pew, along with its partners, the Crime and Justice Institute and JFA Associates, will provide assistance to analyze Kentucky’s criminal justice data to determine what is driving the prison population and costs; compare the state’s sentencing and corrections policies and practices with nationally recognized, evidence-based and fiscally responsible best practices; and develop a set of recommendations to improve public safety in the Commonwealth. To incorporate perspectives and recommendations from across the criminal justice system, Pew will also engage stakeholders including judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement, jailers, local government officials, advocates for crime victims and survivors, as well as faith-based organizations and business groups.

The project will be guided by the Task Force on the Penal Code and Controlled Substances Act, which was created by the General Assembly to develop recommendations based on the principles of justice reinvestment that have been proven in several other states to reduce recidivism while averting new public spending on prisons. The co-chairmen of the task force are Senator Tom Jensen and Representative John Tilley, who also serve as the chairmen of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees respectively. The other members of the task force are: John D. Minton Jr., the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, J. Michael Brown, the Secretary of the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, Thomas Handy, a former Commonwealth’s Attorney, J. Guthrie True, a former public defender and Tommy Turner, a current County Judge-Executive. The task force will make its recommendations to the General Assembly next January.  Legislation based on those recommendations will be introduced during the 2011 session of the General Assembly.

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