The two statewide coalitions whose sexual assault and domestic violence programs annually serve a combined 26,000 victims support Senate Bill 120, a re-entry bill aimed at reducing Kentucky’s 40 percent, three-year recidivism rate.
By facilitating the re-entry process, SB 120 makes it less likely that inmates will be sent back to prison for parole or other violations. It provides inmates with more opportunities to work while incarcerated and expands opportunities to seek occupational licenses as inmates reenter society after prison.
We at the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs and the Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence see justice reform through a unique and complicated lens.
More than one-third of victims of a violent crime have been repeatedly victimized. In fact, if you are a victim of violent crime, you are not just likely to be re-victimized but to be re-victimized four or more times. In other words, when criminals re-offend because we don’t do enough to facilitate their re-entry into society, victims suffer over and over again.
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Without question, we want to make sure dangerous batterers and rapists are held accountable for their crimes. That means making sure we aren’t releasing these individuals early because our prisons are overcrowded with non-violent offenders. This bill tries to address this issue by adjusting parole and probation for those who need less supervision, easing a growing caseload with no negative impact on public safety.
But the unfortunate reality is that victimization in the form of sexual and domestic violence has been identified as one of seven pathways to incarceration for girls and women. Indeed, Kentucky has the third-highest per capita rate of incarceration of women. The trauma they suffer as victims can lead to mental-health and substance-abuse issues, which we know are inordinately large drivers of our growing prison population.
In other words, for many victims, justice reform may actually protect them from harm and help them on their way to healing and recovery.
Moreover, we see SB 120 as a prevention measure. It will create safer communities when those who are released from prison can find jobs and housing rather than returning to a life of crime.
This isn’t just a talking point. We know from a sound body of research spanning almost four decades that childhood trauma adversity is linked to violence, in addition to being a victim of violence. Every incarcerated person has at least four indicators of this childhood trauma adversity.
But we also know through research that resilience measures exist and can help them rehabilitate, thereby improving public safety. Among the proven resilience factors are identifying and cultivating an individual’s sense of purpose and supportive communities and social systems. The provisions contained in SB 120 seek to address these needs.
It’s easy to paint criminals and crime victims with broad brushes, but the truth is far more complicated. The status quo isn’t working; victims deserve a justice system that doesn’t re-victimize them. It is time to pass SB 120 and let evidence-based strategies guide our approach to justice reform.
Eileen Recktenwald is executive director Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs and Sherry Currens is executive director of Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence.