KY Policy Blog

What’s In the Criminal Justice Reform Bill, and What’s Not

By Ashley Spalding
February 15, 2017

Senate Bill 120, the bill coming out of the state’s Criminal Justice Policy Assessment Council (CJPAC), proposes some positive steps to address barriers to successful reentry often experienced by former offenders when they are released from jail or prison. Here’s an overview of what is and is not in the bill.

The bill includes:

Second chances for workers with records

SB 120 includes licensing reforms that would increase employment opportunities for workers with records by making it possible for them to receive state occupational licenses in some circumstances. Currently the state’s occupational licensing boards and commissions can deny a license just because a person has a criminal conviction for cutting hair, landscaping, driving a bus and many other jobs. The bill would make changes so that such a denial only happens if the person’s conviction and the occupational license are related. This provision of SB 120 is expected to help prevent recidivism.

Modest reductions in the state’s inmate/supervised population

  • Inmates owing large fines or court costs wouldn’t be incarcerated if they truly couldn’t afford to pay. The bill would also increase the amount of credit an inmate receives per day for spending time in jail toward paying fines and court costs.
  • Parole would be shortened for inmates convicted of certain crimes who have no violations while on parole.
  • Some who violate probation and parole would be sanctioned with up to 60 days of incarceration rather than being sentenced to serve their full sentence for having probation/parole revoked.
  • Day reporting programs would have specific authority in the law, which could help to reduce the number of Kentuckians in jail, prevent reoffending and result in savings to counties. A day reporting program is a community-based, structured sentencing program operated by a county jail that combines supervision with resources and services. One such program operating in Louisville provides electronic monitoring for participants on home incarceration and requires them to report to the program for alcohol and drug testing as well as cognitive skills training.

Changes to benefit addicts

  • The Department of Corrections would be required to implement a Reentry Drug Supervision Pilot Program for certain inmates and parolees with substance use disorders. This program would include drug testing and counseling.
  • An Angel Initiative program would allow addicts to turn themselves in to a law enforcement agency to get help without criminal charges being pursued. Only some are eligible to participate and additional investments to expand access to treatment are not part of the program.

Better preparation for reentry while inmates are incarcerated

  • Jails would be allowed to operate reentry centers that offer vocational training and other programs, with funding tied to how successful they are at reducing recidivism.
  • More work opportunities would be available to inmates while they are incarcerated. The bill includes a work release program that would allow some inmates to work outside of a jail or prison for private employers. In addition, the bill would allow private industries inside prisons in some circumstances, providing additional paid work opportunities for some inmates; wages would be at least the federal minimum wage although some deductions would be made. Such work programs have been shown to increase inmates’ employability when they are released and in doing so prevent their likelihood of returning to jail or prison.

The bill does not include several provisions that were in a draft bill:

Several aspects of the draft bill that would have made a big impact on our state’s growing inmate population and associated costs — not to mention the lives of those who become involved in the criminal justice system and their families — did not make it into the final version of SB 120.

Raising the felony theft and fraud thresholds

  • Currently theft in Kentucky is considered to be a felony if it is for more than $500. The draft bill proposed raising the threshold to $2,000. Such a reform would have reduced the number of Kentuckians charged with a felony and therefore the amount of time spent incarcerated, among other consequences associated with a felony conviction.
  • The earlier draft would also have raised the felony threshold for fraud to $2,000. Currently, for instance, fraud related to public benefits in the amount of only $100 and unlawfully registering a car in another state with the intent to avoid paying taxes or the registration fee in the amount of $100 are both felonies.

Raising the threshold for felony nonsupport

  • Failure to pay child support in the amount of $1,000 is currently a felony. The draft bill would have raised this threshold to $5,000. For parents somewhat behind in their payments, adding a felony charge would only worsen a family’s economic situation.

Making reforms to the bail system

  • The earlier draft proposed to eliminate money bail for all but high-risk offenders; this is the practice of pre-trial release from jail being contingent on a defendant’s ability to afford a monetary payment. Currently many with low incomes remain in jail while those with higher incomes can return home to await trial. This reform would have had many positive effects, including potentially $100 million in corrections savings.

Additional reforms that did not make it into the bill:

Many other promising reforms that would make a big impact in our state are also not in SB 120 and will hopefully be taken up by the legislature in future years. These include reforming the state’s Persistent Felony Offender (PFO) law, expanding drug courts and making parole automatic for certain offenses.

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