Racial disparities are the common thread among the issues the ACLU of Kentucky plans to focus on addressing in the 2020 legislative session.
The three priority areas are probation and parole reforms, learning more about the demographics of Kentucky’s incarcerated juveniles, and implementing changes that will help more women of color survive pregnancy and the postpartum period. In each of those categories, statistics show African Americans suffer more negative impacts than whites.
Kate Miller, who heads up advocacy at ACLU-KY, said her organization could do better at focusing on race in this context.
“I don’t think that we’ve always done the best job of prioritizing the disparate racial impact of bills we’ve been advocating for, and so fortunately we’re in a better space now,” she said.
The nonprofit plans to support legislation that would address its priority issues. The General Assembly will begin its next session in January.
Keturah Herron, the juvenile justice field organizer for ACLU-KY, will work on a bill to collect data on Kentucky’s incarcerated kids. In the adult justice system, there is data available on demographics, offenses and how many people are on parole or probation, Miller said. That isn’t true for the juvenile system.
“There’s obviously a relationship between our adult justice system and our juvenile justice system,” she said. “While we’ve had some success in reducing the number of kids who are in juvenile detention facilities, where we have not been successful is in reducing the racial disparity, which has grown even more pronounced.”
Miller said reforms to the juvenile justice system that passed in 2014 are working better for white kids, which means that black kids in detention are significantly over-represented compared to the population.
She said the ACLU is also aiming to cut down how many formerly incarcerated Kentuckians return to jail or prison by changing the probation system.
One potential solution is to let those on probation earn “compliance credits,” which people on parole can use to deduct time from their sentences. That can include earning a GED or completing a drug treatment program.
Just like incarceration, Miller said African Americans are more likely to be over-represented in probation and parole than whites. In 2016, African Americans made up 13 percent of the U.S. adult population and 30 percent of those on probation or parole, according to a report by the Pew Charitable Trusts.
Racial disparities extend to survival rates of pregnant women as well, with black women being much more likely than white women to die from conditions related to pregnancy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend addressing and identifying implicit bias in healthcare to improve outcomes.
Miller said the organization is working on a bill to increase training for medical professionals. The ACLU also supports expanding Medicaid to cover doula services, which Miller said could help reduce maternal mortality rates.
“We’re, of course, focused on reducing maternal mortality for everybody but we also want to [prioritize] reducing the racial disparities that we’ve seen in the system,” she said.
Next year, the ACLU-KY will continue to push for a number of issues it has historically supported, including LGBTQ rights through a statewide anti-discrimination bill and reproductive rights through a number of active legal cases.
The group also anticipates pushing against policies such as expanding voter ID requirements and purging voter rolls, which new Secretary of State Michael Adams plans to pursue. That is another issue that disparately affects African Americans.