On March 3, 2011, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear signed into law HB 463—a criminal justice reform bill designed to decrease the state’s prison population, reduce incarceration costs, reduce crime and increase public safety. The Public Safety and Offender Accountability Act was a strong bipartisan effort, passing the Senate unanimously and the House by a vote of 96 to 1. According to the Pew Center for the States, the Act “puts Kentucky at the forefront of states advancing research-driven criminal justice policies designed to protect public safety, hold offenders accountable and control corrections costs.”

Kentucky’s corrections budget increased from $30 million in 1980 to nearly $470 million in 2010, and its prison population rose along with it—growing nearly 80 percent between 1997 and 2009. That year, Kentucky had the highest incarceration rate in the nation. But despite the dramatic increase in costs, Kentucky’s crime rate remained about the same. These bipartisan reforms look to change that.

The Act’s many reforms are estimated to result in cost-savings of $422 million over 10 years to the Kentucky taxpayer, and will seek to stop the revolving door for lower-risk, non-violent offenders. By doing so, this should open up more prison space for violent and career criminals. And, similar to the recent bipartisan Arkansas reform act, the legislature agreed that half of the savings will be reinvested in efforts to reduce recidivism, including strengthening probation and parole and programs for substance abusing offenders.

As Governor Beshear said in regards to the Act, “it enables [Kentucky] to continue to be tough on crime but at the same time to be smarter about it.”