Prisons

Rhonda Miller

A Kentucky program to train shelter dogs so they have a chance to be adopted has reached a milestone.  Inmates at a Muhlenberg County prison have trained 1,000 canines in a project called 'Death Row Dogs.'

In a bright sunny room at Green River Correctional Complex, 12 dogs are sitting beside their trainers. It’s week 11 of a 12-week program called 'Death Row Dogs.'

Allen Hearld says the lab mix named Snookie is the sixth dog he’s trained.  


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Kentucky is taking part in a new research program aimed at reducing the recidivism rate of the state’s prison inmates. Kentucky is one of four states participating in the project.

The Safe Streets and Second Chances program will be funded by the Koch Industries network. The project will begin in June with 200 randomly chosen inmates in Kentucky prisons. The program’s advisory board chair Mark Holden said the idea is to begin the process of preparing an inmate for reentry as soon as they’re incarcerated.


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Local groups are coming together to oppose a pending “anti-gang” bill and they are urging state lawmakers to kill the measure before the legislative session ends Saturday.

The bill, introduced Jan. 10, stiffens penalties for those engaging in gang activity or for committing a crime as part of a gang. The measure has passed the House and could be approved by the Senate as soon as Friday.

Bureau of Prisons

The Bureau of Prisons has issued a record of decision signaling that it is moving ahead with plans to build a federal prison on the site of a former strip mine in the hills of Letcher County, Kentucky. But local opponents of the prison say they’re not giving up and are considering a legal challenge to prevent the construction of a new prison.

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A study by a Campbellsville University professor finds Kentucky has a lack of standardized programs aimed at helping former inmates re-enter society.

 

The Kentucky Department of Corrections released more than 1,200 inmates in 2017. According to the report, two-thirds of those inmates will be rearrested within three years.

Dale Wilson is a professor at Campbellsville and author of the study. He said while there’s high participation in substance abuse programs, there’s a lack of programs that prepare inmates for getting a job once they’ve served their time.

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Kentucky’s Justice Secretary says he’s not giving up on criminal justice reforms becoming a reality during this year’s legislative session.

But John Tilley’s comments come as a reform bill is stalled in a House committee.

House Bill 396 is the result of suggestions made by a committee appointed by Governor Bevin to find ways to lower Kentucky’s incarceration rate, and increase opportunities for addicts to receive substance abuse treatment.

Kentucky Official: State Prisons To Run Out Of Space By 2019

Jan 30, 2018
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Kentucky’s top public safety official says the state’s prisons will run out of space by May 2019, possibly forcing the early release of thousands of nonviolent inmates as the state continues to grapple with the effects of a nationwide opioid epidemic.

Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary John Tilley told state lawmakers Tuesday the state’s prison population is expected to grow by more than 4,400 inmates over the next decade. His comments come as lawmakers are deciding how to spend taxpayer money over the next two years.

At the oldest prison in the U.S., on the west side of Indianapolis, Vanessa Thompson sat on a bunk in her cell, watching television. It was early 2015, the 17th year of her incarceration.

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A new poll shows Kentuckians overwhelmingly support prison time over capital punishment for people convicted of first-degree murder.

Findings from a recent poll by the University of Kentucky Survey Research Center show nearly 58 percent of people surveyed believe that lengthy prison terms, including life without parole, are preferable to the death penalty as punishment for conviction of first-degree murder.

Kentuckians also overwhelmingly support a halt to executions until problems with the state’s capital punishment system are addressed, according to the survey. More than 72 percent said they would support a decision by the governor to block executions until issues with the system could be addressed.

“It is important to note that this new poll shows that Kentuckians are increasingly concerned about the fairness of our criminal justice system,” said Marcia Milby Ridings, former president of the Kentucky Bar Association, in a news release.

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You are Letcher County, Kentucky. You are rural, mountainous, and in the heart of the central Appalachian coalfields. Your economy is not in good shape. Fox News has called your largest town “the poster child for the war on coal.” You are offered funds to build a new federal prison. It could bring jobs but also brings up troubling moral issues. What do you do?

Call it the prison builder’s dilemma: Letcher County and other rural areas are wrestling with a choice between a potential economic boost and the ethical burden of becoming the nation’s jailers.

Coalfield economies have been hit hard by the industry’s recent decline and Eastern Kentucky’s 5th Congressional District has been among the most affected. Today it has the second-lowest median household income in the country, and the second-lowest rate of labor force participation.

In recent years, a big chunk of the money flowing into the region has come through the Bureau of Prisons. Three federal penitentiaries have been built in the district, and now, money has been set aside to build a fourth — in Letcher County.

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Kentuckians with certain Class D felony convictions are now eligible to apply to clear their criminal records as long as they have stayed out of trouble for five years.

The new law also allows people with gubernatorial pardons to expunge convictions and loosens restrictions for clearing misdemeanor convictions.

Louisville attorney Benham Sims, a former Jefferson District Court judge, said the new law will make it easier for people with criminal records to get jobs and get on with their lives.

“The number one way to reduce a return to jail is employment,” Sims said. “We need to allow these people to move on.”

The new law applies to 61 Class D felonies, which constitute about 70 percent of Class D felonies committed. Those with eligible convictions have to wait five years after completing their sentences (incarceration, parole, restitution, probation, etc.) before applying.

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State prisons are at capacity, county jails are overcrowded and the state is recommending transferring about 1,600 inmates to private prisons that have been shuttered for the past several years.

Officials ended the state’s last private prison contract in 2013, partly as a cost savings measure and also in response to scandals at privately owned prisons in the state.

John Tilley, secretary of the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, said that it was “critical” that the Kentucky consider reopening the private prisons. He said past efforts to reduce the prison population haven’t panned out.

“Parole grant rates are not where we thought they would be,” Tilley said. “Revocations of those on parole are higher than they were projected. And generally there’s so much discretion built into the court system.”

Tilley said that many judges throughout the state haven’t bought into prison reforms, instead sentencing convicted criminals to incarceration over diversion or treatment programs that would keep people out of prison.

Lawmaker to Propose Bill Ending ‘Prison Gerrymandering'

Sep 24, 2014
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A Kentucky state lawmaker says he will introduce a bill that will accurately apportion the state’s prison population in legislative districts.

Louisville Democrat Rep. Darryl Owens says he plans to file a measure for next year’s General Assembly that would change how the U.S. Census counts Kentucky’s prisoners; currently, they are counted in the district of their incarceration. Owen’s bill could place them in districts based on their previous home address, or not count them altogether.

Owens says that he thinks his bill will fare well in the upcoming legislative session. 

“We’ve got to figure out a way to count them, but make sure that they don’t have a big impact on the local community where they can’t even vote and don’t even live,” Owens said.