Kentucky learns from Texas how to reduce inmate population

By Elizabeth Donatelli - bio | email

FRANKFORT, KY (WAVE) - In the last 10 years Kentucky's prison population has increased 45 percent, which is more than three times the national average. It's causing facilities to fill up and costing the state big bucks. Wednesday afternoon the Pew Center on the States offered findings and suggestions about how to limit it, recommending lawmakers take a page out of Texas's playbook and take a look at drug offenders.

The Texas criminal justice system has shifted away from prison time and moved towards building up probation and parole programs.

"They not only saved millions upon millions of dollars, tax payer dollars, but they made communities safer," said Rep. John Tilley Chair of the Judiciary Committee. "Their crime rate went down. They drove their crime rate down by cutting correction costs and being smarter and tougher on crime."

Tilley brought in Texas state Rep. Jerry Madden, who was in leadership when the state made major reforms to its Corrections Department. He is nicknamed the "Correctionist."

"We've saved in Texas now, the latest numbers we've had--well over a billion dollars since 2007," said Madden.

Reforms aimed at drug crimes. One quarter of Kentucky's nearly 21,000 inmates are being held on drug offenses

"We built additional secure facilities called substance abuse treatment facilities," said Madden as an alternative to incarceration. "Instead of setting-up for two or five or 10 years, they would take them for the six months and put them in substance abuse (programs), then put them on probation."

Recommendations from the Pew Center include probating sentences for treatment instead of incarceration, creating a scale of penalties for how much you possess or sell, and making a second offense the same penalty as a first.

"What we're trying to do is differentiate between those users, handlers, and traffickers."

Tilley said the goal is to cut down on the incarcerated population and save money.

The Pew Center and Madden testified in front of a joint committee with both representatives and senators. Tilley says he hopes the members will come to a consensus and file similar bills in both chambers when lawmakers reconvene on February 1st.

Copyright 2011 WAVE News. All rights reserved.