Helping felons get jobs could lower Kentucky's recidivism rate

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FRANKFORT, Ky. – Gov. Matt Bevin wants to make it easier for felons who have completed their sentences to get jobs and reduce the number of people who go back to prison.

The governor’s Criminal Justice Policy Assessment Council unveiled a sweeping reform bill that aims to help people assimilate back into society after completing their prison term.

“A job is one of the best ways for a person to not fall back into recidivism,” Bevin told reporters at a Frankfort news conference on Tuesday. “A chance for them to rebuild their lives.”

Forty-four percent of people released from Kentucky’s prisons are eventually go back behind bars.

“There’s a lot yet to be done, but there’s a tremendous amount of good work that is going to come forward in this bill.”

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, is the sponsor of SB 120, which is the result of the council’s work. He said among the goals is keeping people from committing crimes again once they get out of prison.

“One of the biggest driving factors in recidivism is whether or not that person has a job when they get out,” said Westerfield, “And we want to make sure that they do.”

The bill would remove automatic bans for felons seeking professional or occupational licenses, and give boards a process to determine if a crime should prohibit licensure.

It would also allow private industry that doesn’t compete with other Kentucky businesses to operate inside prisons – giving inmates a chance to learn real-life job skills while they are also paying restitution, child support and their own costs of incarceration.

Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Daniel Venters, a member of the governor’s panel, said Kentucky was settled by people looking for a second chance.

“This state was founded by people looking for a fresh start, looking for a new beginning. In some cases, looking for redemption,” said Venters. “It’s part of our heritage, and it’s something that is still with us.”

SB 120 also addresses probation and parole reform by giving more flexibility to use sanctions for violations and give credits for compliant parolees, similar to an existing program in Missouri.

Another provision would create a re-entry drug supervision pilot program for inmates and parolees with substance abuse problems, which the council said is the next step beyond drug courts.

The 173-page legislation covers a wide variety of additional topics, and was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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