FRANKFORT—Three bills aimed at reducing prison populations and costs passed out of the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday — but one encountered some resistance and may be amended on the House floor.
One bill would codify an early release of some prisoners enacted in the current two-year state budget, but the bill would limit the eligibility for parole credits for time previously on parole to non-violent and non-sexual prisoners.
The bill, sponsored by Judiciary Chair Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, and reflecting recommendations by the Criminal Justice Council on ways to reduce the burgeoning prison budget, would also make non-violent, non-sexual offenders eligible for parole after serving 15 percent of their sentences or two months, whichever is longer.
LaRue County Judge-Executive Tommy Turner thinks that might not please some.
“I wonder if people on juries realize they could be sentencing someone to five years and they’re only going to serve a few months,” Turner asked. “A lot of these people will just be going through a revolving door.”
But the state has to do something if it wants to slow the costs of housing nearly 22,000 inmates, about 7,600 of them in county jails. That is part of Turner’s objection – many of the early releases are state inmates which the state pays counties to house in their county jails. Jails are running a collective deficit of around $130 million across the state and many depend on the payments from the state for Class C and D felons.
Another bill would prohibit prosecutors from using the Persistent Felony Offender (PFO) statute in combination with other statutory enhancements to lengthen sentences. The prosecutor would have to choose one or the other.
Chris Cohron, President of the Commonwealth Attorneys Association and Commonwealth Attorney in Warren County, spoke against the measure. He said the original recommendation of the Council was to prohibit prosecutors from using both the PFO and enhancements under drug laws against offenders – but not every enhancement in the penal code.
And, he said, the statute is so broad it might lead to reversals of convictions on appeal.
The third measure would increase the level of felony theft from the present $300 to $500 and establish a range of penalties for rising levels of theft.
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