SOMERSET — A judge has continued a temporary ban on releasing inmates from a three-county area in southern Kentucky under new parole rules that have caused controversy.
After a hearing Wednesday, Circuit Judge David A. Tapp did not immediately decide whether to impose a long-term injunction barring such releases — or whether to apply such a ban statewide — but promised to rule soon.
The legal fight involves changes that credit convicted felons for time they were on parole if they have to return to prison. That credit counts as time served toward their release, meaning they are freed earlier than they otherwise would have been. The legislature approved the changes in parole credits this year.
Commonwealth's Attorney Eddy Montgomery urged Tapp to impose an injunction that could stay in place for months to bar using the new rules.
The Department of Corrections has released 2,500 people from jail, prison or parole supervision under the rules since May.
The legislature made the changes in parole rules to save money by reducing the state's inmate population, which has shot up because of tougher sentencing rules, efforts to fight drugs and other factors.
The new rules are projected to save $12.5 million during the current two-year state budget.
According to testimony Wednesday, around 40 percent of those released can be expected to commit new felony crimes within three years, Montgomery said.
"That is a real threat to society," he told Tapp.
However, Wesley W. Duke, an attorney for the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, argued that Montgomery had not met the requirements to have Tapp issue a long-term injunction in the case.
Montgomery sued last week to overturn the new rules. Tapp issued a restraining order to temporarily block releases in his circuit of Pulaski, Lincoln and Rockcastle counties.
One change affected people who commit violations such as drug use while on parole, and get sent back to prison.
Under the new provision, a person sent back to prison would get credit for the time he had spent on parole — "street credit," some call it.
One thought behind the credit is that people should be rewarded for the time they successfully spend on parole. But Montgomery pointed out that the people getting the credits have committed violations while on parole.
The state is applying parole credit retroactively. That means if a person spent time on parole for prior crimes, even years ago, it is counted against his current sentence, reducing the time he has to serve.
The new rules also release people from parole supervision earlier than the old process.
Montgomery argued that the changes should be struck down. Among other problems, there are no written policies to implement the rules, as required by law; it is illegal to apply the credits retroactively; and the state is improperly cutting the time people are under parole supervision by giving them credits that only people behind bars should get, Montgomery said.
The issue at Wednesday's hearing was Montgomery's request for a temporary injunction barring use of the parole credits while his lawsuit is pending.
Duke argued that Montgomery had not shown sufficient need for an injunction. The potential harm the prosecutor pointed to is speculative, Duke said.
"I think you have to show something beyond what might happen," Duke said.
The Corrections Department is not aware that anyone released from prison because of the new rules has committed a major crime, said spokeswoman Lisa Lamb.
Montgomery pointed to one case of a man already charged with a new crime after he was released because of parole credits, and said there will be more because large numbers of people commit new crimes.
"That's not speculative. That's fact," he said.