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New report shows disappointing returns for Kentucky criminal justice reform

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A new report from the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy shows the number of people incarcerated in the state–and the costs of keeping them locked up–have risen over the past decade. Kentucky has the 7th-highest incarceration rate in the nation.

Nearly 60 bills passed by the Kentucky legislature in the past 10 years have increased or expanded felony criminal punishments, compared to only 10 bills that have reduced criminal punishment. According to the report, more than 300,000 Kentuckians are currently incarcerated in the state’s jails and prisons. 

“It’s been over a decade and we’ve been talking about this issue so I think there was a sincere hope that we’d see these changes,” said Carmen Mitchell, a criminal justice policy analyst with KCEP. “It, on the one hand, has been surprising to see that we’ve continued to go in the other direction even after trying to implement these changes.” 

Mitchell said the idea of punishment as a solution to solve problems remains prevalent in the Kentucky legislature, despite incarceration’s lack of success in helping turn around the lives of many of those behind bars. Kentucky’s recidivism rate was more than 35% in 2020. 

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Becca Schimmel is a Becca Schimmel is a multimedia journalist with the Ohio Valley ReSource a collaborative of public radio stations in Kentucky, West Virginia and Ohio. She's based out of the WKU Public Radio newsroom in Bowling Green.
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