Politics

Gov. Matt Bevin said he wants Kentucky to “lead the way” on criminal justice reform and has appointed a council tasked with producing legislative ideas for next year’s General Assembly.

The 23-member committee includes state officials, legislators and advocates from around the state.

Bevin said the state’s laws need to be changed to save money and allow those convicted of crimes to more effectively rejoin society.

“…Because to not do so comes at a burden and a cost economically, emotionally, behaviorally, criminally that we frankly cannot afford to bear,” Bevin said at a news conference on Tuesday.

Though Bevin and other speakers didn’t have any specific proposals for legislation, several broad concepts were mentioned including sentencing reform, finding alternatives to incarceration and devoting more resources to combat drug addiction.

Justice Sec. John Tilley, who will chair the committee, pushed for penal code reform, saying the state’s sentencing laws have gotten increasingly complicated since they were first established.

“In those intervening years up until now, it’s become a patchwork of dysfunctionality,” Tilley said. “There’s no consistency, no rhythm, prosecutors and defense attorneys will tell you the same thing.”

Tilley said that “everything is on the table” for the council.

During this year’s legislative session, Bevin signed into law a bill that allows some to clear class D felony convictions from their criminal records.

West Powell’s testimony about dealing with a felony record — the result of stealing car radios 27 years ago — helped convince lawmakers to pass the legislation.

On Tuesday, Powell said the state needs to find ways to help people leaving jail prepare for the workforce.

“We’ve gotta do something to give these people some type of trade training, education, something to give them something to move forward within their lives,” Powell said. “That’s the only way I see we can stop people from returning. It’s just a revolving door.”

Secretary Tilley said the criminal justice reform initiative will meet once in the next couple months and several more times before the next legislative session.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.