The skinny on Beshear's commutations Skip to content

The skinny on Beshear's commutations

Lawyer Jazmin Smith of "My Old Kentucky Podcast" takes a look at the supposed issues with Gov. Beshear's commutations.

2 min read
Photo by Grant Durr / Unsplash

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On Monday, the Courier-Journal published an article by Joe Sonka about Governor Beshear’s COVID commutations. Early on in the pandemic, Beshear granted commutations for about 1,700 people who were incarcerated for nonviolent crimes who had very little time left on their sentences.

A report from the Administrative Office of the Courts found that close to one-third of the people released from the commutations had been charged with new felonies.

Rep. Jason Nemes sought out the report over the summer and has criticized Beshear for not properly vetting commutations.

Important context on this story

Recidivism rates – it’s hard to put this data in context without knowing what the recidivism rate usually is. Less than one-third picking up new felonies is actually pretty good when compared to recidivism for the entire prison system.

  • The Justice Cabinet said that this number was 20% lower than usual recidivism rates.
  • National recidivism rates for new arrests within three years of release are usually around 50%. The unemployment rate for people released from prison is usually over 25%. The highest recidivism indicator is poverty. This is a complex issue.

Some of the people who were charged with new felonies were charged over six months after their commutations, which means they would have been released by the time the charges were made. Most of these people would have served out by now, commutation or not.

Nemes noted that a spreadsheet from Corrections had a list of 20 people who had more than ten years left on their sentence before being released. But, it seems like the Courier Journal hasn’t seen this spreadsheet, the ages of the people on it, the crimes that they were convicted of, etc.

  • That spreadsheet also didn’t include good-time credit, so the time left to serve isn’t actually accurate.
  • Regardless, none of the people who received commutations were serving life sentences, so they would have gotten out eventually.
  • Kentucky also has the third highest rate of COVID cases and deaths in state prisons.

The interim Judiciary Committee met today (Wednesday) for Corrections officials to testify about the COVID commutations.

  • Rep. Fischer said Beshear let out 25% of felons. That’s not true, he released 7%.
  • Kerry Harvey, former US Attorney and Justice Cabinet Secretary said they are doing a deep dive into the report and stated that a lot of the new offenses charged have been dropped.
  • There was also a lot of discussion about whether Corrections had provided the data with good time credit. Harvey said it was provided. It seems like Carroll and Nemes had not seen it and Joe Sonka tweeted that he’d gotten no response about his open-records request for the information.


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Jazmin Smith

Jazmin holds a J.D. from the UK College of Law and is now a public defender in Louisville. She is also a member of the Louisville Bar Association. (Read the rest on the Contributors page.)