Community

A new grant will allow the nonprofit Kentucky Center For Economic Policy to research Kentucky’s rising incarceration rates.

The $10,000 grant from the New York-based nonprofit Vera Institute of Justice was announced Tuesday. KCEP Executive Director Jason Bailey said his organization will research and collect data on county jails in Barren, Leslie, Boyle and Rowen counties in order to compare those jails’ data.

He said KCEP chose to research incarceration because Kentucky’s jail population is still climbing.

“We are really out of step with the nation on our lack of progress on addressing criminal justice reform,” Bailey said. “It’s a lose-lose for everyone really, and it’s something that we just haven’t had the will to address yet.”

The grant is part of the Vera Institute’s “In Our Backyards” initiative, which is meant to support local organizations trying to reduce incarceration rates and resist unnecessary jail expansion. This is the first time the initiative has awarded the $10,000 grants, and there were more than 70 applicants for 16 awards.

In Our Backyards Campaign Director Jasmine Heiss said the organization chose KCEP because the way Kentucky uses its jails makes it an outlier when compared to other states. She said collecting more data on that jail usage is important to both Vera and the state.

“The future that we hope that people imagine for Kentucky … is one in which not only do counties not rely on jails for their economic future, but that there are better ways to invest in safety,” Heiss said.

Kentucky is one of a few states where the jail population increased in 2018, according to a Vera Institute report published in April. That increase has been caused in part by stiff penalties for low-level offenses, and it has created an overflow of inmates into state and local jails.

“It’s an issue that we all need to understand better, and ultimately [we need to] follow what other states are doing and make some changes to policy that would reverse these trends,” Bailey said.

He said KCEP will begin research this month. They plan to finish the research and publish a report on their findings before the 2020 Kentucky General Assembly.

Kyeland Jackson is an Associate Producer for WFPL News.