Kentucky lawmakers, seeking to curb fast-rising prison costs, wrapped up work this week on legislation to bolster treatment programs and alternative sentencing to keep more nonviolent criminals out of prison.
The Republican-led Senate voted 38-0 in a show of bipartisan unity for revamping the state’s drug laws. The Democratic-controlled House followed with final passage on a 96-1 vote after accepting Senate revisions.
The measure — becoming perhaps the biggest accomplishment of the legislative session that’s more than two-thirds complete — now goes to Gov. Steve Beshear.
Kentucky has been saddled with one of the nation’s fastestgrowing prison populations, and as a result taxpayer spending on corrections has soared by more than 300 percent since 1989. Supporters said the measure could reap $422 million in gross savings over a decade. About half that would be reinvested into treatment, probation and parole programs to reduce the ranks of repeat offenders clogging prisons.
The net savings is projected at $147 million over 10 years.
Supporters hailed the measure as landmark to constrain corrections costs — the second-fastestgrowing segment of Kentucky’s budget. It trails only Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance program covering low-income and disabled people.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Tom Jensen, who shepherded the bill through the Senate, assured his colleagues that the measure preserves tough sentences for violent offenders and serious drug criminals.
While maintaining harsh penalties for serious drug offenders, the bill sets a proportionate scale of penalties so trafficking in larger quantities of drugs is punished more severely than sales of small amounts for personal use.