Editorial: Criminal justice reforms voted for by House are good bills

Published 5:14 am Wednesday, February 12, 2020


The Advocate-Messenger

On Monday, two important criminal justice reform measures passed the Kentucky House with flying colors. House Bill 284 and House Bill 327 were both given 91-0 unanimous stamps of approval by Kentucky representatives. They now head to the Senate for consideration.

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House Bill 284 would create credits for time that people on probation could earn by doing any of the following things:

  • obtaining a GED, technical school diploma or college degree;
  • successfully completing an approved drug treatment or “promising practice or life skills program;” and/or
  • maintaining employment.

These credits would provide great incentives to those people who are on probation or conditional discharge to improve their lives and achieve the rehabilitation goals we all hope they can achieve.

The ultimate measure of our criminal justice system must be the outcomes it produces. If our system continues to discourage personal growth, mire people with limited life skills in debt and put up barriers to success during prosecution and even after serving a sentence, Kentucky’s outcomes will continue to be underwhelming.

But we could also design a perfect system that provides rehabilitation opportunities and educational assistance at every turn, and if the people who are charged with crimes don’t buy in and take ownership of their own futures, our outcomes will be just as bad.

The responsibility for eliminating recidivism and rehabilitating those who commit crimes into contributing members of society does not sit solely on criminal justice leaders; it sits on the shoulders of those in jail, as well.

House Bill 284 rewards those convicted of a crime who choose to buy in to a better future for themselves. It would be an excellent update to our existing law.

The other important piece of legislation is House Bill 327, which creates automatic expungement of charges when someone has those charges dismissed or when a grand jury fails to indict them.

“HB 327, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Bratcher, is a sensible measure that improves our Commonwealth’s expungement statutes by removing barriers to work,” said Kate Shanks, vice president of Public Affairs for the Kentucky Chamber on behalf of the Kentucky Smart on Crime Coalition. “Our broad-based coalition is pleased with the steady progress legislators are making each year on the expungement issue.”

We agree with that assessment. This bill would get rid of blemishes on people’s records that should never have persisted to begin with. There are already too many people who did commit crimes climbing uphill to put their lives back together while their records work against them; we certainly don’t need to leave obstacles in the way for people who were never convicted or even indicted.