The state can continue a program under which more than 1,800 convicted felons have been released from prison earlier than under previous rules, a circuit judge ruled Wednesday.
Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip J. Shepherd denied a request for a temporary injunction to shut down the program.
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Prosecutors have argued that releasing the inmates puts the public at risk.
This year, lawmakers put language in the state budget to change how the Department of Corrections calculates when people get out of prison. The goal was to cut spending on prison costs.
In challenging the policy, Assistant Attorney General Tad Thomas presented evidence that several men were charged with crimes — including bank robbery, armed robbery and weapons possession — after release from prison under the rules.
But Shepherd said the new policy was not the cause of those crimes.
Shepherd noted that statistics show about 30 percent of people released from prison commit new crimes. There is no evidence the people released under the new policy are offending again at a higher rate, he said.
"There was no proof that citizens who may become crime victims are more at risk under the Corrections (Department) early-release policy," Shepherd wrote in his decision.
Because so many people reoffend, it's also not clear that blocking the use of the policy would prevent or reduce crime, Shepherd said.
One change affected people who commit violations such as drug use while on parole, and have their parole revoked.
Before, if a person sentenced to five years had served one year, been on parole two years, and was then sent back to prison, he would have the remaining four years of his original sentence to serve.
Under the new provision, he would get credit for the two years on parole — "street credit," some call it — leaving only two years to serve.
The rules apply to people behind bars or on parole supervision.
As of Tuesday, 1,851 inmates had been released under the rules, and 2,498 people had been released from parole supervision, said Lisa Lamb, the spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections.
Attorney General Jack Conway, who sued to block the Department of Corrections from using the policy, said in a statement that he would appeal the ruling.
"We are disappointed in today's decision by the Franklin Circuit Court, but we continue to believe that we are correct on the law of this important issue," Conway said.
Conway noted that Circuit Judge David Tapp, who presides in Pulaski, Lincoln and Rockcastle counties, came to a different conclusion than Shepherd. Tapp barred the use of the disputed parole rules in his circuit.
Those opposing opinions make it imperative to get a ruling on the issue from a higher court, Conway said.
Justice and Public Safety Secretary J. Michael Brown, whose cabinet includes the Department of Corrections, said he was pleased Shepherd found the public is not at greater risk because of the release program.
Conway's overall challenge to the parole-credits policy remains. Shepherd's ruling was only on the issue of whether to bar use of the credits before the case is decided.
Shepherd said Conway's office hadn't shown evidence that immediate injury would result from using the policy if he didn't issue an injunction.
Shepherd said he was mindful of the need to protect the public.
But blocking use of the additional parole credits would require the state to spend more money to keep people in prison, and with the state budget already in crisis, that would require cutting money for other vital services, Shepherd said.