LA GRANGE — Standing in front of Roederer Correctional Facility with a small group of inmates looking on, gubernatorial candidate and recently retired state Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott said Friday that he has a plan to "make Kentucky safe again."
Scott, who is bringing up the rear in the four-man Republican primary, unveiled a plan that would create a new correctional path for drug addicts, using minimum-security prisons, education and job training.
Scott's plan includes eventually expunging criminal records and restoring rights for convicted addicts, including voting and gun rights, which Scott said would remove the "lifetime branding" of being a convicted criminal.
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At the core of his plan is a proposal to redesign the prison system for people who commit drug-related crimes by building new minimum-security prisons focused on addiction recovery and providing education and skills training opportunities.
"Our old prison concept of prison rehabilitation, of changing people's lives and attitudes, it worked and still works on just downright mean people," Scott said. "But it cannot, does not and will not and will never work on people subjected to addiction."
In 1972, Kentucky had a population of 3.3 million people and 2,700 felony inmates, Scott said. By 2010, the population was about 4.4 million with 23,000 felony inmates.
Scott said he thinks that as many as half of those inmates are there because of either direct drug crimes or crimes committed to finance addiction.
He envisions a partnership between judicial drug courts and the state department of corrections, sending criminals who fail the drug-court program to a new minimum-security prison where they can get clean, and be trained to work jobs that regional businesses need.
Doing so would increase the recovery rate from 45 percent in drug courts to as high as 70 percent, Scott said.
"The rest we just have to keep away from the public until they prove they're safe again," he said.
Additionally, Scott proposed a Kentucky certified worker certificate program, financed by fees paid when criminals are first charged.
Freed felons could present the certificate when applying for a job, and businesses would be reimbursed "for any loss, injury or damage" caused by any former inmate they employ.
Doing so, Scott said, would allow former felons to "regain their pride and confidence and keep it."
"That means a decent job," Scott said. "And as Merle Haggard always sang, 'having pride in who I am.'"
While taking questions from reporters, Scott acknowledged that he had not "calculated the costs" to Kentucky taxpayers, but he said the cost of rehabilitating addicts in minimum-security prisons would be far less than what the state now pays to house a felony inmate.
Scott, who surprised many people by resigning from the bench to embark on a long-shot gubernatorial bid, was asked by the Herald-Leader if he was running to win or to bring attention to this and other issues.
"I'm running to win," he said, "but if I do nothing else, I hope I bring attention to this, and I bring a message that Kentucky needs to hear, because we can be safe again."
Before and after his remarks, Scott gathered input from a small group of inmates who had just cut the grass that reporters were standing on.
After he finished his presentation, the former justice turned to the group and offered another message.
"Write your family," Scott said. "Tell them to go vote for Will T."