A 2008 report from the Pew Center on the States said Kentucky had the fastest-growing prison population in the nation. We've turned things around a bit since then, ending 2010 with about 2,000 fewer prisoners in the system than in December 2007.
We couldn't afford not to start reducing the prison population. A corrections system that cost Kentucky taxpayers $294 million in 2000 now eats up more than $460 million a year.
Addressing the high costs of corrections in Kentucky remains an ongoing effort. Recommendations are expected soon from a task force studying the subject.
So, why would we want to start locking up people just for being in Kentucky?
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In essence, that is what we'll start doing if Senate Bill 6, the immigration measure being pushed by Republicans, becomes law. Under SB 6, an illegal alien could be found guilty of trespassing simply for being here.
Under certain circumstances, the offense could rise to the level of a Class D or Class C felony. Other violations of SB 6 also qualify as Class D and Class C felonies, and a provision of the bill establishes a Class B felony.
According to the state Department of Corrections, it costs from $13,119 to $65,593 to house a Class D felon for the sentence of one to five years that comes with the crime, $108,564 to $217,128 to house a Class C felon for the accompanying sentence of five to 10 years and $217,128 to $434,256 to house a Class B felon for a sentence of 10 to 20 years.
Not surprisingly, given those numbers and the fact some of the crimes created by SB 6 would not be eligible for any form of reduced sentence, a statement prepared by the department labeled the fiscal impact of SB 6 as "significant."
There are many reasons lawmakers should reject SB 6, starting with the fact that immigration enforcement is a federal responsibility.
The Kentucky State Police already have an agreement with the Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement designed to rid the state of illegal aliens who have committed serious crimes.
Getting other law enforcement agencies needlessly involved in time-consuming immigration enforcement that lends itself to racial profiling may make Kentuckians less safe by detracting from efforts to solve more serious crimes.
Yes, there are thousands of illegal aliens in Kentucky. To be blunt about it, some work wouldn't get done in some of the state's major industries without them.
And yes, our immigration laws should be enforced. But not through the spread of Arizona-style state laws supported around the country by private prison companies that hope to enhance their bottom line.
Because the bottom line for Kentucky is that we can't afford the cost of housing all prisoners convicted of the new crimes contained in SB 6.