Billion-dollar proposal would encourage states like KY to rethink sentencing to reduce prison populations

By Mark Richardson
Public News Service

In Kentucky, about 37,000 people are behind bars, one of the highest rates of incarceration anywhere in the country. A new proposal has been made to bring those numbers down but it will require approval from Congress.

It is known as the Public Safety and Prison Reduction Act and it would pay states to rethink their sentencing policies and reduce their prison populations.

Kentucky has among the highest rates of incarceration in the 50 states, imprisoning 889 out of every 100,000 people. (NKyTribune file, via PNS)

Hernandez Stroud, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, which is making the proposal, pointed to state prisons as the core issue in mass incarceration, holding 87% of the nation’s inmates.

“Congress could help states break the cycle of excessive imprisonment and its devastating impact on families and communities,” Stroud contended. “By offering funding as an incentive to both shrink state prison populations and implement humane alternatives.”

Statistics from the Prison Policy Initiative show Kentucky ranks among the top 10 states for the number of incarcerated people. Figures show the state imprisons 889 out of every 100,000 citizens, well above the national average of 608 per 100,000 people.

Justice reform advocates noted if Kentucky were a country, it would rank among the top 10 in the world for its incarceration rate.

Kungu Njuguna, policy strategist with the Kentucky branch of the ACLU, said his state has been going backward on reducing the prison population.

“A report that came out about a year or two ago said that in the last decade, Kentucky has passed 10 times more bills that create new offenses and increase penalties for current offenses than ones that reduce penalties or reduce crimes,” Njuguna explained.

According to the federal proposal, if the 25 states with the largest prison populations could reduce their populations by 20%, nearly 180,000 fewer people would be behind bars. However, Congress has not yet approved the Public Safety and Prison Reduction Act. Its $1 billion estimated price tag may be among the reasons.

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