Officials Discuss Kentucky’s Early Release System at Louisville Forum

by Devin Katayama on March 14, 2012

Officials who support Kentucky’s early inmate release program say the effort to cut costs and ease jail overcrowding may need tweaking, but believe the benefits of the system outweigh the risks.

The Louisville Forum hosted a conversation about the early release system Kentucky implemented early this year. Under the new law, low-level inmates may be released on parole up to six months early but the full impact of releasing over 1,000 inmates early won’t likely be known for another few months.

The latest numbers show 160 inmates given early release violated parole over the past couple of months, said Justice Cabinet Secretary J. Michael Brown. But the program still offers services inmates would not receive if they served out their time, he said.

“If we can put those individuals into an intensified supervision program then we can cut that recidivism rate, meaning those individuals coming back into prison, by a substantial margin,” said Brown.

House Bill 463 was passed by the Kentucky General Assembly last year and implemented this year. The measure was meant to relieve the Justice Department’s budget which spends $21,000 a year to incarcerate inmates. To parole an inmate costs nearly $1,000 in supervision costs.

“My health budget is about $62 million a year just to provide medical care. And so the longer people stay in, the sicker they get, the sicker they get, the more medical attention they need. That cost is certainly not going down,” said Brown.

Officials say the measure is also a matter of public safety as recidivism is reduced. But more services are needed, according to panel member Suzanne McElwain Seabold, executive director Prodigal Ministries, which offers various services to parolees.

She said not all parolees on early release are given the necessary services they need.

“Alcoholism and drug addition is the main reason why they go back to prison. So there needs to be more programming and different kind of programming to help the inmates,” she said.

Most inmates who violate parole do so within six to nine months of release, and once that time frame is up, the Cabinet will be able to better measure the impact of the program, said Brown.

Until then, he said, it’s difficult to assess how will the program is working.

All four panel members spoke in favor of HB 463, but they said there have been tweaks along the way.

“We’ve already readdressed some issues, looked at some language, things that we can adjust,” said Mike Simpson, Oldham County Jailer.

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