Criminal Justice Reform in Kentucky

Starting in 2009 under Governor Beshear’s leadership, Kentucky had the highest incarceration rate in the nation. Kentucky’s corrections budget increased from $30 million in 1980 to nearly $470 million in 2010, and its prison population rose along with it. As of 2020, Kentucky has the 8th highest incarceration rate among states.

Since 2011, Kentucky has made changes to its prison policies, and in 2017 Governor Matt Bevin (R) announced the creation of a bipartisan Criminal Justice Policy Assessment Council to carefully study the criminal justice system and suggest actionable policy solutions for improvement.

Recent prison reform legislation includes:

  • A 2011 bill that diverts minor drug offenders to probation and treatment to reserve limited prison space for high-level drug traffickers and also authorizes the development of a probation pilot program based on Hawaii’s HOPE model;
  • A 2014 bill that expands community supervision of juvenile delinquents and refocuses resources on the most serious of juvenile offenders;
  • A 2018 bill which gives people with felony convictions the opportunity to have jobs by allowing them to have professional licenses and earn money from private employers; and
  • A 2018 dignity bill that provides feminine hygiene products and access to obstetric and gynecological health services. It also allows for incarcerated women to attend drug rehabilitation programs rather than remain in prison.

These measures were implemented to reduce the overcrowded prison population, promote the rehabilitation of low-level, non-violent offenders, aid with the reintegration of ex-offenders, and provide living necessities to and improve the living conditions for incarcerated women. Though the 2011 bill was a good effort to divert low-level drug offenders from prison and lower recidivism rates, the incarceration rate has spiked because of the rise in low-level offenses.

Kentucky has passed many important reforms that will improve public safety, provide opportunities for the offenders to re-enter society, and save taxpayers money; however, there is still work to be done to reform its criminal justice system.

Identification of legislation should not be considered an endorsement of support of, or opposition to, such bills.

Public News Service -Kentucky Dignity Bill: A Game-Changer for Women Behind Bars

2018 ACUF Press Release: Dignity