Kentucky releases prisoners to save money [Opinion: The Arena]

Jail Cell

Changes to Kentucky's penal code last year mean that nearly a thousand prisoners will be released into the community today, ahead of the end of their sentences. But apparently we shouldn't worry. These will be prisoners who are within 6 months of their release date, they'll be supervised by the the Department of Probation and Parole, and they'll be receiving counseling and assistance with finding jobs and housing.

The changes in the law last year were designed to cut $40 million a year from the Department of Corrections budget, but along the way the intent is also to decrease recidivism and accomplish some other more minor goals. That's the news. For some background, see the article in the Courier-Journal, WLKY, and elsewhere.

But since's The Arena is for opinions... I'm interested in hearing your thoughts on this, because it raises some interesting questions.

  • If the services being provided to decrease recidivism work, shouldn't we provide, or at least offer, those services to all released prisoners?
  • What is the purpose of jailing convicted criminals? How much of the purpose is punishment as opposed to rehabilitation as opposed to protection of the rest of us from them? Depending on the answer, how do early release programs fit into our concept of "justice" being served?
  • All of the participants in this early release program are in for felonies, including a few convicted of manslaughter. All of their sentences were longer than two years, and none of them were in for "Class A" felonies.  Was prison the "right" thing to do with these people in the first place? Do we have enough options for punishing people who commit crimes? Is prison too blunt an instrument? Are there better options for some types of "criminals?"
  • Just last month, a man who had been on death row in Kentucky for 14 years was released and had his conviction overturned when DNA evidence exonerated him. Findings like this across the country have resulted in several states completely abandoning the death penalty (along with a movement in Kentucky to do the same). The fact that the justice system has gone disastrously wrong in cases where the ultimate punishment is at stake, and where the process is scrutinized the most, means it is all but certain that when there are lesser sentences involved, and less scrutiny of the process, an even higher number of wrongful convictions are being made. Do we need to do more to ensure that our justice system results in justice, not just punishment? What is our moral obligation as citizens to ensuring that we don't imprison innocent people for long periods of time?
  • What other questions does this program raise for you?

Photo: Courtesy Andrew Bardwell

________________'s The Arena section features opinions from active participants in the city's politics. Their viewpoints are not those of (a website is an inanimate object and, as such, has no opinions).



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