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Kentucky Senate Leader Wants To Expand Felony Expungement Law

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The majority whip of the state Senate says he wants to expand Kentucky’s felony expungement law to allow people convicted of selling small amounts of marijuana to apply to clear their record after 10 years.

Last year, lawmakers voted to allow people convicted of some nonviolent, nonsexual Class D felonies to apply to expunge their records if they stayed out of trouble for five years and paid a $500 fee.

But drug trafficking is not included among the list of crimes eligible for expungement.

Sen. Jimmy Higdon, a Republican from Lebanon, said public perception of marijuana has changed over the years and the expungement law should be tweaked to give more people a second chance.

“Somebody who’s guilty of trafficking of small quantities of marijuana, maybe we shouldn’t make it a lifetime sentence and allow them after 10 years to have that expunged,” Higdon said. “We are a society of second chances.”

Higdon said he plans on filing the legislation during next year’s General Assembly and including some other nonviolent Class D felonies if applicants stay out of trouble for 15 or 20 years.

Under the expungement law that Gov. Matt Bevin signed into law last year, a judge has final say over whether to allow a criminal record to be cleared.

The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and ACLU of Kentucky both supported the law as a way to get people with criminal records back to work and reintegrate them into society.

Bevin recently created a working group to look at ways to find employment for groups that typically have trouble finding work — people with criminal convictions, those with disabilities, foster children and disabled veterans.

During the first meeting of the Work Matters task force on Tuesday, the group discussed ways to prevent people from returning to the corrections system after release — by helping them find employment and addressing mental health issues.

John Tilley, secretary of the Cabinet for Justice and Public Protection, said that those who have meaningful employment after being released from the corrections system are far less likely to commit another crime.

“We know we have 160,000 open jobs in Kentucky at this very moment and we know a number of them are good, high-paying jobs and we ought to be able to connect people to those jobs through the proper training and the proper linkages,” Tilley said.

According to 2016 data from the Justice Cabinet, about 41.4 percent of Kentuckians released from prison were arrested, convicted of another crime or returned to prison within two years.

Only 16 percent of those who find meaningful employment after prison return, compared to 52 percent who do not.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives for Kentucky Public Radio, a group of public radio stations including WKMS, WFPL in Louisville, WEKU in Richmond and WKYU in Bowling Green. A native of Lexington, Ryland most recently served as the Capitol Reporter for Kentucky Public Radio. He has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin.
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