Edelen calls for overhaul of criminal-justice system

February 22, 2019

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Adam Edelen said Friday he wants to make changes to Kentucky’s criminal justice system from start to finish, with proposals spanning pre-trial bail to restoration of voting rights for nonviolent felons who served their time.

Edelen also called for a review of probation and parole policies, saying technical violations that put people back behind bars are big contributors to overcrowded jails.

State and federal policymakers have taken “baby steps in the right direction,” but more ambitious criminal justice changes are needed, Edelen said. The goal is to keep families intact, rebuild lives and save tax money, he said in a conference call with reporters.

Edelen said “adopting an approach of restorative justice is clearly the right thing to do.”

Another Democratic gubernatorial hopeful, Rocky Adkins, touted rehabilitation programs and shorter sentences for nonviolent offenders as ways to try to reduce prison populations.

Edelen, a former state auditor, said one way to reduce jail overcrowding and reap big cost savings for local governments is to change the bail system for criminal defendants.

Judges set a cash bond for most defendants after they’re arrested, with a higher bond for more serious offenses. People lacking money to post bond can spend extended time in jail.

“We have too many people who are stuck in prison because they’re poor,” Edelen said. “And I don’t think that makes sense morally. And it certainly doesn’t make sense in terms of effective stewardship of taxpayer dollars.”

Kentucky lawmakers are considering a bill this year to revamp the bail system.

In calling for automatic restoration of voting rights for nonviolent felons who completed their sentences, Edelen said he’s willing to take action if the legislature doesn’t. A proposed constitutional amendment that would let voters decide the issue is pending before lawmakers. Its supporters say 312,000 Kentuckians are denied voting rights due to felony convictions.

“I’m so committed to this, that if the legislature won’t act when I’m governor, I will,” Edelen said. “And if it means getting the worst case of carpal tunnel a Kentucky governor’s ever had, I will do it as I sign my name to 312,000 restoration of voting rights documents in Kentucky.”

Adkins has supported restoring voting rights during his long state legislative career. Adkins, the House minority floor leader, said Friday he would work to reduce prison populations by reducing sentences for nonviolent offenders and emphasizing rehabilitation programs.

“We must also work to ensure people are welcomed back as fully-fledged members of their communities and the workforce once they’ve paid their debt to society,” Adkins said in a statement. “We need to provide ample access to education, health care and opportunity so they can build a future for themselves and their families.”

Edelen also said probation and parole policies need to be reviewed to reduce technical violations that cause people to be locked up again, leading to jail overcrowding.

Adkins and Edelen are among four candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for governor in the May 21 primary. The others are state Attorney General Andy Beshear and frequent candidate Geoff Young. On the Republican side, Gov. Matt Bevin is seeking re-election but faces challenges from William Woods, Ike Lawrence and state Rep. Robert Goforth.