Kentucky editorial roundup
The Associated Press
Nov. 22, 2017
Summary of recent Kentucky newspaper editorials:
Lexington Herald-Leader on private prisons:
Kentucky cannot afford to keep locking up so many people. We can't afford the cost, now almost $600 million a year.
And we can't afford the waste of human potential, including the harm to children when parents are incarcerated.
Regrettably, overcrowding is forcing the state to employ a private company with a dismal record to house 800 prisoners.
Last week's announcement signifies the legislature's failure to enact reforms that can reduce both incarceration and crime. It also signifies the failure of judges and prosecutors to embrace alternatives to imprisonment.
In 2018, lawmakers must redeploy dollars from locking up nonviolent criminals into providing them addiction treatment and programs that lead to a better path.
Fueled in large part by opioid addiction, the state's prison population has mushroomed by more than 4,000 in the last four years to 24,367. Kentucky houses many low-level felons in severely overcrowded county jails with little to no access to treatment, education or rehabilitation.
Even more people would be behind bars if not for sentencing reforms enacted by the legislature in 2011. It's been clear for several years that the 2011 reforms did not go far enough.
For one thing, Kentucky's threshold for felony theft has been stuck at $500, one of the lowest in the country, for a long time. Texas has raised its felony theft threshold to $2,500. Georgia has raised its to $1,500 and South Carolina to $2,000. We're not suggesting that thieves should go unpunished, just that there are better ways to penalize them and at less cost.
Rather than upgrade the 80-year-old Kentucky State Reformatory in LaGrange, Justice Secretary John Tilley decided to re-up with the rebranded CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America, to house 800 inmates at its prison in Lee County, scene of a 2004 riot. Another factor in his decision: the high cost of staffing in Oldham County, which has four state prisons and almost no unemployment. Workers must be brought in from other prisons, resulting in overtime, travel and lodging expenses that will be avoided in Beattyville, where people are desperate for jobs.
The company owns three prisons in Kentucky but the state stopped using private prisons in 2013. In hopes of avoiding recurrences of understaffing and prisoner mistreatment, Tilley is imposing contract conditions and hefty fines for violations.
Our justice system faces so many challenges, the last thing it needs is a profit motive for powerful private interests to lock up more people.
Tilley and others are offering solid recommendations for rehabilitating offenders without building new prisons.
As Kentucky struggles to support education and honor pension obligations, lawmakers must curb the high costs of over-incarceration.
Daily News of Bowling Green on funding Kentucky State Police:
The Kentucky General Assembly and previous state administrations have failed miserably in their obligation to protect citizens of this great commonwealth. For years, Kentucky State Police have been asked to do more with less, and they have. But now they can't, and it's up to the legislature and the current administration to fix this problem.
The KSP crime labs are tasked with analyzing evidence from every law enforcement agency in the state. KSP is likely to be called upon by police departments and sheriff's offices throughout the state to investigate officer-involved shootings.
KSP troopers respond to slayings and countless other felonies across Kentucky through the agency's 16 post locations. In addition, KSP runs two drug enforcement special investigation units, an electronics crimes branch whose investigators pursue online child predators, the driver's testing branch and commercial vehicle enforcement. KSP dispatch provides emergency radio services not only for state police but also for several counties.
This is an agency that is constantly expected to give, but over the last several years its own needs have been neglected by a lack of proper funding from lawmakers who ultimately hold the power of the purse.
Statewide, KSP has about 840 sworn officers, only about 500 of whom are road troopers. The agency is considered fully staffed at 1,070 sworn law enforcement officers. However, if the state police graduated a class of 200 cadets this week, KSP doesn't have enough money in the budget to pay them.
Troopers, who work from their cars, are driving high-mileage vehicles, some with as many as 200,000 miles. These cars, driven at high speeds, must be able to stop quickly and maneuver winding country roads in all kinds of weather and all types of road conditions. Citizens calling for help expect troopers to respond. That's hard for state police to do without reliable transportation.
When they do get to a call, being able to communicate is vital. However, KSP's radio system is dying. It's so old the manufacturer doesn't have parts to make repairs.
There is also a chance that when a trooper needs firepower, he or she could be outgunned. KSP's Vietnam-era M16s have been recalled by the Department of Defense, which could leave many in the field without a long gun. The agency was able to scrape together enough money to buy 200 long guns, but that's not even enough for every current road trooper to have one in his or her cruiser. A trooper with a handgun pitted against a shooter with an AR-15 is at a terrible disadvantage.
Kentucky lawmakers can and should do better than this. It's time to make public safety a first priority in Kentucky, and that needs to start with properly funding Kentucky State Police.
Richmond Register on drug court:
Almost every day in The Register, we have a story on the drug epidemic.
Recently, we reported that Madison County already has seen more drug-related deaths this year than last. We reported that Madison County EMS has seen an increase in patients requiring naloxone to reverse the effects of an overdose. The jail is overcrowded and indictments are up.
Yet, not every story is negative. On occasion, we have stories of hope.
On Wednesday, family and friends gathered at the Madison County Courthouse. However, instead of a hearing or trial, there was a celebration. Four drug court graduates were recognized for turning their lives around following addiction.
Each of the graduates spoke candidly of their experiences with addiction.
One male participant described his five-year cycle of desperate addiction, inability to keep a job and dishonesty to his family. Now employed and on good terms with family, he compared his life several years ago to his current life, calling it a difference of night and day.
And that's the goal of the program — to make a difference in its participants' lives and give them another chance.
Many of the people addicted to drugs are not bad people, they made a bad decision. Drug court is a perfect chance for them.
The program is designed to help people who have gotten in trouble, who have pleaded guilty, whether to a misdemeanor or a felony, and who want to change the course of their lives, work on the addiction issues that led them to court and have a positive outcome.
One graduate recalled how he woke up in a drunk tank about a year ago and wondered how he got there. He has found restoration through the drug court program, saying, "I needed to be here." Citing his personal turning point as when he finally believed in the program, he encouraged current drug court participants in the room to keep working at it.
We need to keep encouraging them as well. While there may be stumbling blocks, everyone deserves a chance to live a sober and productive life.
We all need to remember that these individuals are someone's son or daughter, someone's mother or father. They mean the world to somebody and don't deserve to be just another statistic.
Although drug court is not an option for all, getting help is. Those who are able to overcome their addiction and become sober need to celebrate that victory. We all do.