The 2011 General Assembly can go down as a success now that both chambers have acted to stem the tidal wave of prisoners that is swamping the state's budget and sucking resources from education and other services.
Kudos to lawmakers who defied the "tough on crime" political canon to give near unanimous approval to thoughtful penal code reforms.
Kudos to the task force, drawn from all branches of government and the ranks of prosecutors and defense lawyers, that, with assistance from the Pew Center on the States, developed the reforms.
In the process, the legislature showed that progress through bipartisan cooperation is still possible under the Capitol dome.
Never miss a local story.
The real test, though, will come for future General Assemblies.
They must follow through on this legislation's promise to take the savings from decreasing prison populations and invest the money in programs to provide offenders, especially drug abusers, with the community-based treatment and supervision they need to reform themselves.
That would be a good swap for taxpayers. The average daily cost to house an inmate in a state prison is $59.49 compared with $2.69 for an average day of probation and parole supervision.
Kentucky's prison population grew by 260 percent from 5,700 prisoners in 1985 to 20,700 in 2010 while the corrections budget swelled at an unsustainable rate from $140 million to $440 million.
It's not clear that taxpayers got much if anything in return; Kentucky's serious crime rate is about what it was in the 1970s.
Meanwhile, drug abuse and addiction-motivated crimes have gnawed away at the social fabric of many Kentucky communities.
Warehousing addicts and those who commit crimes to feed their addiction isn't working. Much more promising is the new law's shift to treatment and alternatives to incarceration for many nonviolent nonsexual offenders.
Also, under the new law, fewer minor violations of probation or parole will land people back in prison.
Some of the changes will take effect immediately; others will be phased in over several years.
Fortunately, the task force that developed this year's reform package will continue its work for at least another year.
The task force should continue to look for ways to peel back the layers of harsh penalties that fill jails and prisons but yield questionable returns for taxpayers and the public's safety.