There have been many questions and concerns, and a great deal of confusion surrounding Senate Bill 120. This bill is corrections oriented, and focuses on improving prisoner re-entry and reducing recidivism rates. Simply put, if successful, less recidivism means less victims and less strain on law enforcement.
What’s in the Bill?
Removal of Economic Barriers to Re-entry: Currently, felons, no matter what the felony is, how long ago it was, or what events have occurred since, are banned from obtaining an occupational license in Kentucky. S.B. 120 removes this artificial barrier and returns discretion in issuing these licenses to the licensing boards. Currently, Kentucky ranks 3rd in the nation with one of the largest percentages of adults who are disenfranchised because of a felony conviction. Kentucky also ranks 47th in labor participation in the nation. You can read more about this portion in particular here.
Angel Initiative: The Angel Initiative is a program brought to Kentucky by State Police Commissioner Richard Sanders. It first began in Gloucester, MA and a state-wide program allows addicts to walk into any State Police barrack in the Commonwealth and other participating police stations without fear of prosecution for a drug offense. Suspects already taken into custody cannot later attempt to take advantage of this program to avoid prosecution, they must physically walk in. Being able to divert drug addicts who are looking to better themselves before they are caught violating the law reduces stress on the system and allows those who want to help themselves.
Private Industries Enhancement Certification Program: This program, through Federal certification, would allow private companies to hire inmates to produce nonagricultural goods behind prison walls. The program requires that it not displace local civilian workers, and is completely voluntary on the part of the inmate. Inmates are paid reasonable wages and then have taxes, child support, 20% of any money earned to the Victims Compensation Fund, and a “reasonable room and board” deducted. Victims, who so often receive no or inadequate restitution, may now have a way to receive some financial support. Inmates, on the other hand, may learn valuable work and “soft” skills that will translate to the job market once they are released.
Data Collection: The above mentioned programs, as well as the Jail Re-Entry Center pilot program and others will need to be adequately and objectively studied in order to assess their usefulness and continued utility. Currently, getting accurate data is harder than in should be because multiple agencies collect and report it. One of the final sections of S.B. 120 establishes and new reporting and collection mechanism for DOC data.
Indigence: The first sections of S.B. 120 deal with making the definition of indigence – that is, defendants who do not have the means to support their own defense or pay court fines and fees – uniform across Kentucky law and allows for an inmate to earn credit towards fines, fees, and court costs while incarcerated. The inmate does not earn credit toward any court ordered restitution or child support payments from this statutory scheme. The bill also distinguishes between those who truly cannot pay and those who willfully do not pay.
Supervised Compliance Credits: The language of this bill allows offenders on parole (not probation) to begin to receive 30 days of credit on their sentence for every 30 days they are in compliance with their supervised parole. Class D felons can begin to use these credits after one year of supervision, Class C felons may use it after 2 years of supervision. In other words, if someone has 4 years left on a sentence and is placed on parole, assuming they are compliant, after one year, every remaining year of parole would be 6 months as long as they don’t violate any of the terms or conditions of their parole.
Discretionary Detention Increases: Under current law, probation and parole officers have discretionary detention abilities. This means that if they find a someone on probation or parole who is in violation of one of the terms of their probation or parole they can send that individual to jail or prison for a short period of time without going through the entire revocation process. S.B. 120 extends the amount of time probation and parole officers can do this up to 10 days at a time and 60 days a calendar year for probationers and 30 days at a time and 60 days in a calendar year for parolees. This stems from the understanding that swift and certain punishment deters crime, first championed by Cesare Beccaria in Dei delitti e delle pene (On Crimes and Punishment) in 1764.
Collateral Consequence reform: This section of the bill changes existing law to no longer require individuals to register as sex offenders in Kentucky if the only reason they would have had to register was for an out-of-state conviction, as a juvenile, which, had they been convicted in Kentucky, they would not have to register. Some states have vastly different laws that require registration. Arizona, California, and Georgia for example, can require sex offender registration for public urination. Nothing in the bill changes the registration requirements for out-of-state adult convictions.
Jail Day Reporting & Reentry Centers: S.B. 120 allows jails to operate reentry and day reporting centers. This is an authorizing statute and operates on a performance-based funding model. This ties funding to how successful a reentry center or day reporting program is at reducing recidivism and does not require jails who are unwilling or unable to try to operate them.
What’s not in the bill?
Bail Reform: One of recommendations that came out of the CJPAC that did not make it into Senator Westerfield’s Bill was moving Kentucky to a “no money” bail system. This change would have, in cases of non-violent, non-sexual, non-domestic violence, non-DUI 3rd and up crimes, which were not assessed as “high risk” have been released without a financial bail requirement. New Jersey operates a system like this and a number of states and localities have had their monetary bail systems declared unconstitutional.
Increases in the threshold for felony theft: The CJPAC also recommended increasing the threshold for felony theft in Kentucky from $500 to $2000. States range from a low of $200 (Virginia) to a high of $2500 (Texas). A large amount of research has been done in this area and over the next year Pegasus will be examining what a change like this would look like for Kentucky.
What does it all mean?
Overall, S.B. 120 begins to focus the dialogue on criminal justice in Kentucky on recidivism. Reducing recidivism means less victims, less crime, and less stress on law enforcement. Kentucky has the opportunity to become a national leader on successful prisoner re-entry, and ensure that the next phase of Kentucky criminal justice is one that sees fewer victims and more successful outcomes for prisoners.