Study Questions Kentucky's Repeat Offender Law

By: Andy Cunningham Email
By: Andy Cunningham Email

Earlier this year the Pew Center reported Kentucky's prison population is the fastest growing in the country.

The issue even sparked the Department of Corrections to start releasing inmates early, but one University of Kentucky professor just released a study that suggests the problem may actually lie within Kentucky's sentencing laws.

"In some cases, the punishment doesn't fit the crime," said UK Professor, Robert Lawson.

That's the basis of Lawson's study regarding Kentucky's repeat offender law and how the state's prison population is swelling because of it.

"I think that we are over incarcerating people," Lawson stated.

According the study, Kentucky's repeat offender law is among the toughest in the country. Unlike most states, Kentucky's law is not limited to violent or serious crimes.

"Ours applies across the board, to anybody who's committed a felony offense and they commit another felony offense," Lawson said.

The effect, he says, is overcrowding in our state's prisons. He also says taxpayers will pay $450 million this year to house these prisoners. If you factor in inflation, that's 14 times more than it did in the 1970's.

"And so what I have written about here in this piece is a need to slow that down and I don't believe you can slow that down without reducing the length of sentences that are imposed," said Lawson.

However, not everyone agrees with the study, including Fayette County Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Larson.

"Those repeat offenders, are exactly the people that I and the public want in prison," said Larson. "We don't want them released."

The point of the study, says Professor Lawson, was to create debate, which he has accomplished. However, he admits, it will be a tough sell in Frankfort before any changes would be made to this 34-year-old law.

At the current rate, the state is projecting the number of inmates being housed in Kentucky prisons could top 30,000 by 2016.


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