Lawmaker: Changing criminal code would save $60 million over 10 years

jbrammer@herald-leader.comJanuary 20, 2011 

FRANKFORT — Kentucky could reduce the prison population by 3,000 to 4,000 and save at least $60 million during the next 10 years if proposed reforms to Kentucky's criminal code become law, Senate Judiciary Chairman Tom Jensen said Wednesday.

The legislature's Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary voted Wednesday to accept recommendations from the Task Force on the Penal Code and Controlled Substances Act, created last year by the legislature to find cheaper alternatives to incarceration.

Jensen, a co-chair of the legislative committee and the task force, said a bill based on the recommendations will be presented to the General Assembly early next month.

"We will get with staff, probably next week, to determine what we want in the bill," Jensen said. "I expect there will be changes, but we will find something we all can agree to."

The task force report focused on probation and parole, sentencing reforms, supporting victims and making government more efficient.

Recommendations in the report include reducing penalties for drug possession and drug trafficking at lower volumes and establishing a Class A felony of "commercial drug trafficking" punishable by at least 20 years in prison.

During the past 10 years, Kentucky has had one of the fastest-growing prison populations in the nation.

Despite a decline during the past three years, the state's inmate population of 20,700 in 2010 is 45 percent larger than it was at the beginning of 2000. The nation's inmate population has grown 13 percent in the same period.

Kentucky's high rate of prison expansion is not due to an increase in crime, the task force report said. Kentucky's serious crime rate has been well below that of the nation since the 1960s, and the current crime rate is about the same in 1974, the report said.

The state's spending on incarceration has grown from $140 million in 1990 to $440 million last year.

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