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Kentucky Releasing Hundreds of Felons

December 19, 2002

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) _ Jail and prison doors swung open Wednesday for the first of hundreds of low-level felons whom Gov. Paul Patton ordered freed for budget reasons.

Patton’s ``conditional commutation″ covered 567 prisoners, all described as nonviolent, Class D offenders who, on average, were within 80 days of completing their sentences.

``Thanks, governor,″ said Charles Knott, carrying his belongings in a cardboard box as he left the Hardin County jail, about 50 miles south of Louisville.

Knott was released 72 days early on a sentence he was serving for failing to pay thousands in child support, The News-Enterprise of Elizabethtown reported. He vowed he is a changed man.

``I’m going home right now and taking care of my family,″ he told the newspaper.

Of the total, 363 were scheduled for release Wednesday and the rest on Friday. The majority are in jails. However, the Department of Corrections said at least 90 might simply be swapping one cell for another because they have charges pending against them in other counties or states.

Patton’s order was part of a plan to avert a $6 million deficit in the corrections budget. The order was intended to cut the number of state prisoners in county jails to 3,736.

Most of those being released were drug traffickers, drug users or thieves. Patton excluded sex offenders, four-time drunken drivers and those deemed to be violent or seriously mentally ill.

``The frustrating thing to me is trying to balance the budget by letting inmates out on the street,″ said Daviess County jailer Harold Taylor. ``We know they’re going to be back, there’s no question about that.″

The mass release will cost jailers money. Counties depend on the money they get from the state _ $28.76 per inmate per day _ for holding state prisoners.

In Warren County, jailer Jackie Strode said the early release of 19 inmates there would cost the county $38,000

``This will be a nice early Christmas present,″ Toya Gardner told the Elizabethtown paper as she waited for the release of her brother, who had been in jail for more than a year for violating his probation on a drug offense.

Anthony Gardner lit a cigar the moment he stepped outside.

``I won’t be back,″ he said as he headed to his sister’s car.

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