Chief Justice supports Beshear plan to review Penal Code to reduce prison overcrowding

Professor Lawson’s call for review of Penal Code finally on track.

Jan. 31, 2008
Kentucky’s prison population has skyrocketed 600 percent since 1970 and continues to grow because of “irrational” penalties enacted by lawmakers, according to a study byUK Law School Professor Robert Lawson, the man who wrote the state’s penal code.
The budget for housing state prisoners has risen from $7 million to more than $300 million over that same period and is threatening to bankrupt the system, Lawson says in a report that he’s shared with leaders in all three branches of government.  See this report at: DIFFICULT TIMES IN KENTUCKY CORRECTIONS—AFTERSHOCKS OF A “TOUGH ON CRIME? PHILOSOPHY by Robert G. Lawson
Excerpts from AP article Jan. 31, 2008-
 Kentucky  Supreme Court Chief Justice Joseph Lambert  said yesterday he agrees with Gov. Steve Beshear’s plan to look at ways to decrease the load on the state’s prison system.
Chief Justice Joseph Lambert said he was pleased by Beshear’s plans to assemble a criminal justice panel to review Kentucky’s penal code and find ways of relieving the financial strain caused by prison overcrowding.
Lambert said some offenders could avoid costly prison stays but still be dealt with appropriately.
“A whole host of things could be done that would keep them from being incarcerated but would still keep society’s thumb on them,” Lambert said.
Kentucky’s prison population has surpassed 22,440 prisoners and is projected to keep increasing, Beshear said. The prison budget now exceed $300 million dollars a year to maintain. In 1970, the population was fewer than 3,000 inmates.   The average cost to maintain one prison inmate is close to $15,000 a year.
To help stabilize the population and rein in costs, Beshear said he would create a panel to review the state’s penal code and find alternate ways to deal with nonviolent offenders. Beshear spokeswoman Vicki Glass said work on the task force was continuing and the governor was gathering information.
Lambert said many people with drug problems find themselves in a cycle that rotates them in and out of prison.
“We’re incarcerating a far greater percentage of people for longer and longer periods of time now than we’ve ever done before,” Lambert said.
Nearly 3,400 inmates currently in prison were convicted solely on drug offenses, said Lisa Lamb, a Department of Corrections spokeswoman. More than 2,400 of those were first-time offenders, Lamb said.
Though the increasing prison population is causing lawmakers and others to take notice, University of Kentucky law professor Robert Lawson said changes likely won’t come easily.
Lawson wrote much of Kentucky’s current penal code.
He said the current code looks “absolutely nothing like” what was passed in the 1970s, and people are serving longer and harsher sentences.
“They’ve jacked up any penalty that you can jack up,” Lawson said. “It’s not just the laws, it’s the attitudes. There isn’t any doubt that we’ve gone mad over incarceration.”

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