The Administrative Office of the Courts, which manages the state's judicial system, is embarking on an effort to reduce the number of people incarcerated in Kentucky's county jails while waiting for their cases to be resolved in court.
The AOC's pretrial services division will become part of the "3DaysCount" initiative, which is a multi-state coalition with the goal of creating alternatives to jailing people before trial. The coalition is also looking at creating alternatives to the cash bail system that can keep a person behind bars simply because they can't pay, regardless of the charge.
The group also is interested in creating a risk-assessment system that judges can use, instead of bail, to cut down the number of low-risk defendants in county jails.
3DaysCount is spearheaded by the Pretrial Justice Institute. Cherise Fanno Burdeen, chief executive officer of the organization, said putting a person in jail for a little as a few days can cause major disruptions in that person's economic security, housing situation and family relationships.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
"If you have a job, you're likely to lose it," Burdeen said. "... There's a lot of instability if you have gainful employment and you've been arrested. Once you have instability in income, you are going to have instability in housing."
A person who loses his or her job because of even a short jail stint can face severe consequences, such as not being able to find suitable work to replace the job they lost while incarcerated, or being evicted. For people who pay child support, losing a job can mean not being able to make payments. Families in that situation who are evicted might have to send their children to live with relatives, Burdeen said.
"We've seen kids get shuffled around ... or go into foster care," Burdeen said.
Jail also worsens mental health issues, and can worsen addiction, she said. "Rural jails are not equipped with the medical staff to provide psychotropic medication" to people with mental illness, she said.
Kentucky has a cash bail system. Across the country, lawsuits have been filed alleging the cash bail system is unconstitutional.
Kentucky's pretrial services division already does risk assessments on offenders to determine if they are a danger to the community or if they're a flight risk. Burdeen said the idea is to look for ways to assess people so only those who must be incarcerated are put behind bars pending trial.
Other states have implemented similar practices, such as New Jersey, Burdeen said. New Jersey overhauled its bail system in 2014 and the system went into effect last year.
According to a February report by the Philadelphia Inquirer, New Jersey's jail population declined by 20 percent as judges began using risk assessments when determining whether to send a person to jail pending trial.
Burdeen said some alternatives to jailing people include simply issuing a citation for them to appear in court. In New Jersey, "that really reduced the flow of people into" jails, Burdeen said.
In cases in New Jersey where prosecutors recommend incarceration, a detention hearing is held. Burdeen said only about 15 percent of defendants are scheduled for a detention hearing, and about half of those hearings resulted in a plan that didn't include jail time, such as placing a person on electronic monitoring.
The risk assessment system has resulted in most people appearing at future court hearings.
"What we do know from (Washington) D.C. is 90 percent of people come back to court, and come back without a new arrest," Burdeen said.
The plan, Burdeen said, is for the Pretrial Justice Institute to work with judges and prosecutors, educating them on possible alternatives to sending people to jail pre-trial, and on alternatives to bail. The hope is to have recommendations that can be introduced as a bill in the 2019 or 2020 legislative sessions, Burdeen said.
Placing a person in jail to await trial is expensive. In Kentucky, counties pay the cost of housing inmates awaiting trial.
"I think if people knew communities are spending the kind of money they are spending (on jailing people before trial), and are getting (poor) outcomes, the public would be engaged" in pushing for reform, Burdeen said.