Fredonia, Ky. – With the Western Kentucky Correctional Complex serving as host, the General Assembly’s Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary traveled to the region on Friday for its first meeting following this year’s legislative session.
“We thought this was an ideal location to learn more about all of the progress Kentucky has seen when it comes to recent reforms of our criminal justice system,” said state Rep. John Tilley, who co-chairs the meeting with state Sen. Whitney Westerfield, both of whom are from Hopkinsville. Sen. Westerfield added, “It appears that these smart-on-crime measures are making a true difference when it comes to protecting public safety while stretching every tax dollar.”
Department of Corrections Commissioner LaDonna Thompson told the legislators that the state’s prison population this month had declined by nearly 2,200 inmates – almost a 10 percent drop – when compared to August 2012. Although the current population is still more than had been expected under the current budget, she said the downward trend over the last 10 months indicates that major reforms the state has adopted since 2011 have taken hold.
In her presentation to the committee, Commissioner Thompson noted that inmates now have much greater access to substance abuse treatment, both in prison and in supervised release. At the end of 2007, there were only 1,430 treatment beds, just two years ago, there was a waiting list of more than 2,700 inmates. Now, there are nearly 6,000 treatment slots available, and no waiting list at all.
In another presentation, the committee learned that the state’s eWarrants system has made it much easier to serve criminal warrants across the commonwealth. A 2005 study by the Legislative Research Commission showed that there was as many as 385,000 un-served warrants, and that it took nearly two years to serve three out of four warrants issued.
That has changed dramatically in the five years since eWarrants first began as a pilot program in Jefferson County and expanded to the rest of the state by March 2012. Now, it only takes a little more than a month on average to serve a warrant, and the state is on track to serve 270,000 during this calendar year.
“By streamlining how warrants are handled at the county level and making sure that all law enforcement can quickly access that information, we’re seeing justice being carried out much more quickly,” said Rep. Tilley. “Those charged with a crime have found out that it is now much more difficult to evade the law.”
Other testimony on Friday showed how successful last year’s Senate legislation has been in blocking the sale of stronger cold and allergy medicine to those convicted of a meth-related crime. As a result of that legislation, which was strengthened during this year’s legislative session, Jefferson County alone has seen more than 10,000 sales of pseudoephedrine-based medicine blocked in the last year. In Christian County, the figure was more than 1,000 blocked sales
“This law is doing exactly what we had hoped: Keeping this type of medicine out of the hands of those who have gotten caught up in the meth business without affecting the law-abiding public,” said Sen. Westerfield. “I’m extremely happy to see just how effective the law has been in such a short amount of time.”
In a related matter, state officials told the legislators that the number of meth labs in Kentucky has dropped by 14 percent, from 1,233 in 2011 to 1,060 in 2012. Fifteen other states reported similar declines.
“We hope that this truly means these labs are finally slowing down, and that our work to find and eradicate them is making a difference,” Rep. Tilley said.
“Even if that is the case,” Sen. Westerfield added, “we in the House and Senate are committed to doing even more to get that number to zero. Too many lives are wrecked every day by this terrible drug.”