Today, Kentucky Smart on Crime, a coalition of 14 organizations dedicated to justice reforms in the Commonwealth, announced its 2023 agenda for the Kentucky General Assembly. The group, which was established in 2016, has its sights set on tackling the Commonwealth’s over-reliance on incarceration as well as addressing overdose crisis. Areas of focus include investment in mental health and substance use disorder treatment, reclassification of simple possession, increasing access to expungement, reform of the Persistent Felony Offender (PFO) statute, and more.
“After a brief drop in incarceration during the pandemic, we went right back to exceeding total bed capacity in January of this year,” said Jennifer Hancock, CEO of Volunteers of America Mid-States, a partner organization in the Smart on Crime Coalition. “The trajectory is troubling, but there are certainly opportunities for a course correction and a new direction, especially when it comes to how we are dealing with the intersection of the justice system and substance use disorder,” continued Hancock.
The Coalition is hoping to see more action like Senate Bill 90, passed in the 2022 session of the General Assembly. The legislation aims to reduce incarceration and criminal system involvement by implementing a 10-county, 4-year pilot “conditional dismissal” program that diverts people with mental health and substance use disorders who meet the eligibility requirements from the court system, instead providing supports and services in the community for these individuals.
However, according to an analysis from Smart on Crime partner organization, Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, bills such as SB 90 have been a rarity. From 2011-2022, the General Assembly has enacted six times as many laws to increase incarceration as to reduce it.
“Doubling down on incarceration is delivering diminishing returns,” said Sarah Durand, Government Affairs Director for Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions. “Alternatives that prioritize rehabilitative options are often going to be more effective because substance use disorder is a key driver of criminality. We’re going to see better results when we aren’t so one-dimensional with our policy approach,” continued Durand.
A few of Smart on Crime’s 2023 policy recommendations to change this dynamic and improve public safety include:
- Bringing Kentucky in line with states like TN & SC and 17 others that treat possession as a misdemeanor in a shift to a model prioritizing rehabilitative options over incarceration.
- Clarifying the “Good Samaritan” statute to ensure immunity from criminal prosecution for drug possession for individuals seeking emergency medical care for an overdose.
- Expanding Senate Bill 90’s behavioral health conditional dismissal pilot program to apply statewide.
- Spending opioid abatement settlement funds on harm reduction.
- Increasing access to expungement by shortening the eligibility window, eliminating, or reducing fees, implementing an automatic expungement process for non-violent, non-sex offense crimes.
- Addressing the misdemeanor enhancement issue by creating a five year look back period for those offenses where there is currently no specified period for enhancement.
- Allowing those who have paid their debt to society to participate in the important civic activity of voting.
The 2023 session of the Kentucky General Assembly begins Jan. 3.
About Kentucky Smart on Crime:
Kentucky Smart on Crime is a broad-based coalition working for common sense justice reforms that proactively address individual and systemic racial disparities and inequities, improve public health, enhance public safety, strengthen communities, and promote cost-effective sentencing alternatives. Partner organizations include American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, Kentucky Council of Churches, Catholic Conference of Kentucky, Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs, Inc., Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Kentucky Youth Advocates, Volunteers of America Mid-States, Inc., NAACP Kentucky, Kentucky Criminal Justice Forum, and United Way of Kentucky. For more information, visit kysmartoncrime.com or @kysmartoncrime on Twitter.