Kentucky Studying Prison Fixes; Other States Taking Action

FRANKFORT, KY -- Kentucky is studying ways to fix its burgeoning prison system learning from other states that have begun reforms, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader in its Sunday edition.

Texas and Kansas are cutting prison populations as their legislatures experiment with sentencing, addiction treatment, probation and parole, and social services targeted at high-crime neighborhoods.

The new attitude didn't come easy in a state like Texas, better known for executing prisoners than trying to rehabilitate them. But Texans balked when prisons needed 14,000 new beds at an estimated cost of more than half a billion dollars. The state already incarcerates 171,000 people, reports the Herald-Leader.

"We had an understanding from everybody on all sides that our current model was not working, and it was time to try something new. How often does that happen?" asked Ana Yanez-Correa, executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition.

And then there's Kentucky.

The General Assembly and Gov. Steve Beshear agree that Kentucky faces the same dilemma as other states, if not worse. Its prison growth leads the nation. However, they have little to show as lawmakers enter the final days of their 2008 session, the Herald-Leader reports.

Beshear and the Senate propose separate committees to study the justice system and suggest ways to alleviate inmate crowding. These committees would follow on the heels of similar committees whose findings were largely ignored. The Senate proposal -- awaiting House action -- originally called for a report by July 2011, but that date was bumped forward to this December because senators agreed they need to move faster.

A few bills that could ease demand for incarceration right away -- for example, diverting non-violent drug offenders into treatment -- appear stalled, the newspaper reports.

Meanwhile, the prisons budget is expected to swell from $417 million to $478 million by 2010. Fiscally struggling county jails, many of them brutally crammed with thousands of state inmates, will get hundreds more inmates and possibly less state funding.

Beshear campaigned last year on a pledge to "finally and permanently" resolve inmate overcrowding. Now he says he won't be rushed, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Copyright: The Lexington Herald-Leader

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