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Kentucky General Assembly Brings Big Changes to Criminal Justice Policy in 2021

Kentucky’s General Assembly just wrapped a productive 2021 legislative session. The 30-day session saw numerous criminal justice reforms passed, as well as the introduction of many bills that may see passage in future sessions. Right on Crime applauds Kentucky’s lawmakers for their commitment to improving the criminal justice system in Kentucky.

The following are highlights of the new criminal justice reforms that are now law:

  • Representative Ed Massey (R-Hebron) introduced HB 126, to increase the felony theft threshold from $500 to $1,000. This is a reasonable reform that mirrors policies enacted in other conservative states and will help alleviate Kentucky’s prison overcrowding. Research across the country has shown no increase in theft due to a threshold increase. See more on this bill (now law) here.
  • To build on Kentucky’s juvenile justice reform effort, Senator Whitney Westerfield (R-Crofton) introduced SB 36. This bill prevents the automatic transfer of juveniles to adult courts in certain cases, giving discretion to courts and prosecutors as to where the cases should proceed. The language was passed as part of SB 32 and signed into law.
  • Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester) introduced an important policing reform, SB 4, to limit the use of no-knock warrants. For too long in Kentucky, common law has filled the vacuum of guidance where the execution of no-knock warrants is concerned. By passing reforms in SB 4, which has since become law, the legislature is taking the necessary steps to address issues around the use of no-knock warrants, rather than deferring to courts or the executive branch.
  • An important prison reform bill, SB 84, was introduced by Senator Julie Raque Adams (R-Louisville) to improve conditions for incarcerated pregnant and postpartum women.
  • The Kentucky General Assembly also addressed reentry reform. Representative Kim Moser (R-Taylor Mill) introduced HB 497 to require the Kentucky Department of Corrections (DOC) to assist with writing resumes and obtaining certificates of employability. This bill pairs with the work Right on Crime and Safe Streets & Second Chances have been doing with DOC to institute an ID program for individuals leaving Kentucky’s corrections system.

Unfortunately, not all the reforms ROC supported were enacted during the 2021 legislative session. However, we are optimistic that the groundwork has been laid to advance many of the reforms in the 2022 session, particularly the following:

  • Representative Killian Timoney (R-Lexington) introduced HB 580, to create flexibility for a more proportionate response to technical violations of probation and parole, rather than defaulting to revocation and incarceration. More specifically, the legislation would give probation and parole officers the ability to apply graduated sanctions if a person makes a mistake and commits a technical violation of their parole or probation conditions. See more on this bill here.
  • Representative Moser also introduced HB 440 to allow for probation and parole officers to meet with their supervisees via approved teleconferencing technology rather than in person. This is similar to a bill Right on Crime worked on in Louisiana.

Right on Crime will continue to engage lawmakers and stakeholders to build on the momentum around these reforms, as well as others, to ensure the 2022 legislative is even more successful.

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