As the session began, many were hopeful that the legislature was poised to pass criminal justice reforms that would make a meaningful impact in reducing the state’s growing inmate population, associated corrections costs and high rates of recidivism. So where did we end up?
Here are the criminal justice bills that passed:
First steps to improve reeentry. Senate Bill 120 is the bill coming out of the Criminal Justice Policy Assessment Council (CJPAC) appointed by the governor. Rather than a broader reform package, the bill takes some first steps toward promoting successful reentry into the community after incarceration. Included in the bill are: reforms that make it possible for workers with records to receive occupational licenses in some cases; provisions that prevent inmates owing large fines or court costs to be incarcerated if they truly can’t afford to pay; the authorization of day reporting programs and reentry centers; and more work opportunities for inmates while incarcerated. The bill does not include “big ticket” criminal justice reforms such as overhauling the state’s Persistent Felony Offender (PFO) law or raising the felony thresholds for theft, fraud and failing to pay child support; at the same time, the bill comes with some additional costs — for instance, by not allowing offenders who violate their supervision to become immediately eligible for Mandatory Reentry Supervision. This means on net the bill does not do much to reduce corrections costs at least in the short term.
Juvenile expungement. Senate Bill 195 enables a person with a juvenile criminal record to petition for the expungement of a felony conviction received as a juvenile. As with the expungement legislation that passed last year that applies to adults, SB 195 would limit felony expungement eligibility to a single non-violent and non-sexual felony or a series of felonies from a single incident. An offender could be eligible for expungement of a juvenile record if he or she had no new offense within two years after completing their sentence.
Increased charges for heroin and fentanyl trafficking. House Bill 333 increases charges for heroin or fentanyl trafficking in small amounts. The legislation makes the transfer of any amount of heroin or fentanyl a Class C felony with a sentence of 5 to 10 years and no parole eligibility until half of the sentence is served. Currently the transfer of under two grams of these drugs is a Class D felony with a one to five year sentence for the first offense — and parole eligibility after serving 20 percent of the sentence. It is notable that those convicted of trafficking these small amounts of drugs will not qualify for the work programs in SB 120.
Due to the very broad definition of trafficking in Kentucky, an addict sharing drugs with another (with no exchange of money) could be arrested for trafficking; as a result, we can expect the legislation to lead to increased charges and therefore longer sentences for addicts. The legislation is expected to have a significant impact on corrections costs, more than the $30 to $35 million estimate for a similar bill earlier in the session. At the same time, more incarceration is a highly questionable approach to addressing addiction problems in communities. Among other provisions, the bill also limits Schedule II pain prescriptions to a three-day supply except for those with certain conditions.
Other bills related to criminal justice.
- House Bill 14 designates some crimes committed against police officers as hate crimes even though there are already enhanced penalties for crimes committed against officers. The bill is expected to have a minimal fiscal impact, although it “may impact denial of community supervision and length of incarceration sentences for misdemeanor offenses.”
- House Bill 222 prohibits shock probation in cases of conviction of a Driving Under the Influence (DUI) charge in combination with Manslaughter 2nd degree, Reckless Homicide, Fetal Homicide 3rd or 4th Degree. Those committing these crimes will therefore spend more time incarcerated than they would under the current law. The fiscal impact of this bill is expected to be minimal, but depends on how many people it ends up applying to.
- House Bill 329 establishes penalties for security fraud based on the amount of the fraud. There is no fiscal analysis available for this bill.
- Senate Bill 42 allows a peace officer to make an arrest that occurs anywhere on hospital property — including a parking lot or parking garage. This bill is not expected to have any fiscal impact.
What it all means
Criminal justice reform remains a serious need for Kentucky. The state’s inmate population (and corrections budget) has continued to grow in part because of limited use of parole for even low risk offenders and high rates of recidivism. Reforms to reduce incarceration in Kentucky would not only address high corrections costs but also the racial disparities in the state’s criminal justice system and improve the lives of Kentucky kids who have incarcerated parents.
Despite the momentum behind criminal justice reform going into the 2017 Kentucky General Assembly, little was done this session to address Kentucky’s growing inmate population and associated costs. While a couple of bills passed that take initial steps to improve reentry and contribute to reductions in recidivism in the long term, other bills passed that will take the state backward by increasing incarceration and related costs. We are in many ways worse off at the close of the session than when it started.
Meanwhile, our corrections costs have continued to rise. It was recently reported that the corrections budget is expected to be $35 million above projections this year — and that’s on top of $89.6 million over the past 5 years in extra money needed due to the state’s inmate population being above projections. In addition, some of these bills will not only increase corrections costs but could further strain the Department of Public Advocacy — where caseloads are already at unmanageable levels.