Facts and Policy Reforms for Kentucky
Like most states, Kentucky’s prison population has exploded in recent decades.
Between 2000 and 2016, the state’s prison population grew by 41 percent, while over the same period, the national rate dropped by 7 percent. As of August 2018, 24,157 Kentuckians were in the prison system.
Drug offenses are a primary driver of admissions to Kentucky prisons, accounting for nearly two of every five new court commitments in 2016. Kentucky residents are also serving longer sentences in prison than they used to, contributing to the population boom. In 2015, the average person imprisoned in the state was serving roughly 25 percent more time than the average person in 2005. Nearly 30 percent of people in Kentucky prisons are serving a sentence of more than 15 years.
This comes at a high cost to taxpayers. In 2017, Kentucky spent $570 million on corrections. Spending on corrections from the state’s general fund grew by a stunning 234 percent between 1985 and 2016.
Unsurprisingly, Kentucky’s mass incarceration crisis has had an enormous impact on people of color, especially Black people. Black Kentuckians are imprisoned at more than three times the rate of whites. Ending mass incarceration is a critical – although insufficient – step toward addressing racial disparities in Kentucky’s criminal justice system.
Women are also being sent to prison in Kentucky at alarming rates. As of 2016, the state had the second highest per capita rate of incarceration for women in the U.S.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Kentucky can dramatically reduce its prison and jail populations by implementing just a few sensible reforms:
- Implementing more diversion programs for people with mental health needs and/or substance use disorders, such as the Department of Public Advocacy’s Alternative Sentencing Workers Program.
- Removing state laws that mandate that juveniles facing felony charges be tried as adults.
- Eliminating prison time for technical parole and probation violations.
- Repealing the state’s persistent felony offender statutes.
- Eliminating money bail to save county jail expenses and ensure that people do not stay in jail simply because they are too poor to pay.
If Kentucky were to follow these and other reforms in this Smart Justice 50-State Blueprint, 10,317 fewer people would be in prison in Kentucky by 2025, saving over $806 million that could be invested in schools, services, and other resources that would strengthen communities.
For more information, along with detailed breakdowns of Kentucky’s prison population and the reforms needed to reduce it, click here.