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Friday, December 16, 2011

In Kentucky, New Year Brings Early Releases For Some Inmates.

996 Kentucky inmates get out early in new prison plan
Easing transition, fighting recidivism are main goals

Written by Jessie Halladay

Kentucky is poised to release nearly 1,000 inmates about six months early as part of a mandatory new program aimed at easing their transition back into the community, reducing recidivism and helping trim its corrections budget by about $40 million next year.

By providing support in such areas as finding jobs and homes in their first few months outside prison, the new program — part of a major corrections overhaul passed earlier this year — attempts to lessen the chances that offenders will commit new crimes, Justice Cabinet Secretary J. Michael Brown said.

House Bill 463, passed by the Kentucky legislature in the spring, requires that certain inmates who are within six months of completing their sentences be released and put under supervision by the Probation and Parole Department.

Previously, they would not have had any probation or parole.

They were “going from the most supervised place they could be in to basically opening the door and saying: ‘Good luck,’ ” Brown said. “Some would succeed on their own ... but we know that many won’t succeed because they have no transition.”

In all, 996 inmates will be granted release Jan. 3 and return to homes throughout the commonwealth, where they will have about a six-month probation until their sentences are completed as scheduled.

About 70 percent of the inmates being released to supervision are Class D felons, which is the lowest level of felony conviction in Kentucky. The range of crimes the inmates committed is broad, including robbery, burglary, some drug offenses, flagrant nonsupport and wanton endangerment.

Inmates who are not eligible for parole or convicted of a class A felony, the highest felony offenses, are not eligible for the early release.

Additionally, no one who is classified as a maximum security prisoner or who is serving a sentence of two years or less can be released early. Nor can those serving time for previously violating their probation, parole or shock probation.

Brown said he expects about 3,000 people to be released into the mandatory supervision program in the coming year.

To accommodate the increased number of inmates going into supervision, the state has hired about 90 new workers in probation and parole units across Kentucky, including about 17 in the four supervisory districts within Jefferson County.

“We delayed the implementation of this particular piece long enough to have the infrastructure in place,” Brown said.

Among the first group of people being released, are 160 prisoners who will be coming back to Jefferson County, many staying with family.

Evan Roach, the District 17 supervisor in western Louisville, said he is confident that he has the right staffing to handle the increased number of those needing supervision.

“We’ve been planning for it for awhile,” he said. “It’s business as usual.”

Each inmate being released has to have a place already set up to move into and will be required to make regular check-ins with a probation officer. Additionally, they could be subject to drug screens. In some cases, a condition of the release may also be to attend substance-abuse counseling or other programs.

In many cases, Roach said, those on supervision also will be told of optional programs that could help them find jobs, get vocational training and other assistance to ease their transition.

“We’ll try to help them with whatever they need,” Roach said.

Karyn Hascal, vice president for mission advancement at the nonprofit agency The Healing Place, said it is crucial for people coming out of prison to have transitional services that are aimed at helping them adjust to life back in the community.

The Healing Place, which helps the homeless and those addicted to drugs or alcohol, is now operating its own site for that purpose, called The Brady Center, which will provide beds for up to 140 people who are on supervised release and need assistance.

“There are huge hurdles,“ Hascal said. “Our goal is to help people have a healthy, drug- and alcohol-free place to live,” she said. Additionally, staff can help create transition plans that will put those being released on a path to having jobs and independent living.

Brown said the mandatory supervision program also is expected to lead to long-term cost savings for the Department of Corrections. First, it provides the support inmates need to return to the community and not commit new crimes. The average annual cost of incarcerating an inmate is $21,000. Placing a person on supervised release costs an average of about $987 per year, according to Corrections data.

Along with other changes put in place because of the new corrections law, the corrections department expects to save $40 million in 2012, Brown said.

That money will be reinvested in programs for inmates and to aid county jails. Most of that savings will come as a result of the mandatory supervision initiative, Brown said.

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