Kelley Paul: We must focus on recovery, not incarceration

Kelley Ashby Paul
Kelley Ashby Paul

Recently, I was honored to be part of a very special event celebrating the expansion of the Hope Center Women’s Recovery facility in Lexington. Many incredible leaders took part in this event, but the most memorable voice came from a woman named Carrie, who had sought refuge there.

Carrie told her story of rehabilitation and redemption with incredible poise and grace, and spoke from the heart, without notes, about her struggle with addiction and her journey to recovery.

And she credits the Hope Center for it.

As a community, as a state and as a nation, we must speak out in favor of expanded rehabilitation opportunities for those struggling with addiction. Because of the Hope Center’s expansion, even more women like Carrie will have the tools to overcome addiction and begin a new path forward in life.

It is recovery, not incarceration, which allows people to become productive members of society — citizens with jobs and families who can contribute and make our communities better places to work, grow and live. It is recovery, not incarceration, which brings hope and peace into the lives of thousands of Americans and their families struggling with addiction.

The Hope Center expansion comes on the heels of the enactment of the first ever Dignity Bill in the nation, right here in Kentucky.

Because of Sen. Julie Raque Adams’ sponsorship of the bill, and the tenacity of women leaders on both sides of the aisle, pregnant women accused of minor, non-violent crimes now have the option to enter into a recovery program. They can get the treatment they need, instead of languishing behind bars because they are unable to make bail.

Criminal-justice reform is something my husband, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, has been fighting for since he arrived in Washington. He is a lead co-sponsor of bipartisan bail reform legislation with Sen. Kamala Harris, and with the recent introduction of the First Step Act, a major bipartisan prison reform bill that includes expanded treatment opportunities, I am hopeful we can continue our efforts to fix a broken system.

I am proud to assure the people of this commonwealth that my family will do everything we can to ensure that the First Step Act will get a vote.

Criminal-justice reform goes hand in hand with reducing homelessness, alcoholism and drug addiction. We have learned that locking people up who are in need of treatment is not the answer.

The U.S. is the most heavily incarcerated country in the developed world, and many of those incarcerated have suffered a trauma, such as sexual or physical abuse, which led to addiction, and ultimately led them to our justice system.

Instead of treating these individuals, we toss them behind bars, where their problems only get worse. This cycle of failure results in staggering financial costs to the taxpayer, but more importantly a devastating cost to families and children.

The number of women — many of whom are mothers — behind bars has increased by more than 700 percent since 1980.

I am so grateful that the Coalition for Public Safety, an organization that I have become close to, could be part of the expansion of the Hope Center, and I pledge to advocate for policies that ensure more women have access to HOPE.

I am also grateful for pillars of our community, like Mira Ball and her late husband Don, who have done so much to make the Hope Center, and all the promise it represents, a reality.

I was honored to meet their daughter-in-law, Linda, during my visit to the Hope Center, and I couldn’t help but think how lucky Lexington is to have the Ball family, and others who had the courage and the heart to step out and shine a light on the despair of addiction — long before anyone else was talking about it.

Because of this work, the world is wide open for Carrie. I so look forward to what the future holds for this woman who is now confident and job-ready. Some in the room even suggested she run for public office.

Without the support and programming at the Hope Center, we may never have seen all of her potential. Helping Carrie ultimately helps all of us because she will become independent and make better choices. It’s also simply the right thing to do.

In the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “My humanity is bound up in yours. For we can only be human together.”

Kelley Ashby Paul, who lives in Bowling Green, is the wife of U.S. Sen. Rand Paul.