Our View: Reentry program could create safer Kentucky

Published 8:05 am Thursday, February 16, 2017

Gov. Matt Bevin introduced a bill Tuesday aimed at helping people leaving prison successfully rejoin society and avoid returning to prison.

Senate Bill 120 proposes changes focused on battling substance abuse, reducing licensing restrictions and increasing job opportunities.

Kentucky’s recidivism — the tendency of a convicted criminal to reoffend — hovers around 40 percent.

A 2016 report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission found that in 2005, almost half (49.3 percent) of U.S. federal prisoners had been arrested within eight years of release.

SB 120 resulted from discussions by the Criminal Justice Police Assessment Council, which was created by Bevin to bring more fairness, effectiveness and efficiency to the state’s criminal justice system.

As state Sen. Whitney Westerfield said, “we must hold people accountable for their crimes,” but “we must also find better ways to prepare those coming out of prison to return to productive society.”

The USSC report found that generally, reoffenses occurred with the first two years of release, further pointing to a need to address issues of recidivism before and immediately after release.

For people released from prison, there are a variety of limitations in place that can make leading a successful crime-free life difficult.

In addition to SB 102, Bevin recently introduced other legislation aimed at helping Kentuckians thrive after serving time. Last week, Bevin issued an executive order removing questions about criminal history from the initial application for state jobs, and last year, he signed legislation allowing expungement of some low-level felonies after terms of criminal sentencing are completed.

The first obstacle many people with a criminal record face is finding a job, which snowballs into other obstacles.

Without a job, it’s difficult to find a place to live, or buy necessities like groceries. Many could quickly find themselves stealing to survive or turning to illegal activity to make money.

Furthermore, many people with criminal records lack basic life skills necessary to find government help or even be successful in a job.

This new legislation lifts many other barriers to success for people recently released, including automatic bans for felons seeking professional/occupational licenses, establishes a reentry drug supervision program and creating “Angel Initiative” programs where addicts can seek help for their disorders through law enforcement. Other notable changes include allowing private industry to operate within prisons to teach inmates valuable job skills, promoting work releases for lower-offense inmates and establishing opportunities for jails to operate a reentry center to ease the transition back into society.

All of these measures are a step in the right direction to creating a safer Kentucky. Not only will they help the individuals who are reentering society, but we can count on decreased crime and lower costs at jails if we can keep people out of jail.