Pubdate: Mon, 15 Nov 2004
Source: Messenger-Inquirer (KY)
Copyright: 2004 Messenger-Inquirer
Note: from the Associated Press


LOUISVILLE -- Kentucky's prison population has exploded by 600 percent 
since 1970 and will keep growing because of "irrational" penalties enacted 
by lawmakers, a new study says.

The study by University of Kentucky law professor Robert Lawson, who wrote 
Kentucky's penal code, says the burden on taxpayers has increased 
exponentially in that time.

The state's budget for housing state prisoners has risen from $7 million to 
more than $300 million over that same period and is threatening to bankrupt 
the system, Lawson wrote in the 72-page report.

"We have demonized criminals in mass, lost sight of the importance of 
distinguishing between dangerous ... and non-dangerous offenders, and laid 
a foundation for a new citizen underclass made up of parolees, ex-convicts 
and their families," the report says.

The number of inmates had climbed from 2,838 in 1970 to 17,330 by last 
year, according to the report. The report blames that rise on the state's 
"brutally harsh" persistent felon law and an array of drug penalties.

The number of persistent offenders in Kentucky's prisons has grown from 79 
in 1980 to 4,187 this year -- more inmates than were held in the entire 
system in 1970.

Lawson says that the state must soften its persistent felon and drug 
sanctions in order to afford to house the flood of projected new inmates 
and free up resources for treating and training offenders.

The study, titled "Difficult Times in Kentucky Corrections -- Aftershocks 
of a 'Tough on Crime' Philosophy," was compiled based on data provided by 
state agencies, Lawson said in an interview. It will be published next year 
in the UK's law review.

The study suggests that Kentucky's "three strikes" law be tailored to cover 
only violent offenses for which the offender previously received prison time.

Lawson says Kentucky's penal code is now one of the toughest in the nation 
as a result of "stupendous" changes enacted piecemeal over ensuing decades.

It is one of only a few states, for example, that applies its persistent 
felon law to nonviolent offenses.

"The three strikes law permits and sometimes even requires punishment that 
is morally indefensible ... and that works to warehouse for extended 
periods offenders who are unlikely to inflict serious harm on the public," 
Lawson's report says.
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