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Kentucky’s Parole Credit System Breeds Dissent

According to Kentucky.com, a controversial parole-credit measure for criminal offenders is causing uproar among various groups in the state, as lawyers and others worry that looser prison standards will threaten Kentucky’s public safety.

Kentucky’s legislature reportedly passed a budgetary measure earlier this year aimed at easing the burden of overcrowded prisons. The measure, it seems, creates a system of decreased incarceration time for inmates who demonstrate good behavior and other signs of progress. Specifically, convicts will be eligible for earlier parole consideration and shortened sentences for completing degrees, demonstrating good behavior and participating in substance abuse treatment programs.

Supporters of the new rules apparently argue that they encourage good behavior by rewarding it, rather than offering only punishments for those who don’t behave appropriately. But opponents of the new regulations worry that dangerous criminals will be on the streets before they’ve served an appropriate sentence.

One part of the measure that seems to have raised particular concerns is the parole credit provision: inmates who serve parole time, reoffend and are sent back to prison can usually count their time on parole toward their total incarceration sentence.

As supporters have allegedly argued, this makes sense: until the parolee violated a rule, he or she was behaving properly, within the law. When the parolee returns to jail, then, he or she should get credit for all the time during which his or her behavior met standards of acceptability.

But the many individuals who disagree with the new law evidently consider getting jail credit for not actually being in jail is unethical. One commonwealth’s attorney, in fact, is reportedly challenging the rule in court, insisting that it’s unconstitutional and violates sentencing orders handed down by judges.

Perhaps the concern has resulted from how quickly the measure began to take effect: since May, according to reports, nearly 900 inmates have been released from jails, and an additional 887 have been freed from their parole obligations.

This infusion of convicted criminal offenders could be understandably worrying to state citizens, particularly those who have been victims of crimes.

But the crux of the matter, it seems, is money. One lawmaker responsible for the passage of the measure apparently noted that the change was all but unavoidable, in the face of decreasing funds and swelling prison populations. And, as in much of the country, many offenders eligible for prison sentences are involved in the drug trade – the “get tough” drug policies that are crowding prisons across the country are now forcing officials to let inmates walk free.

But the reality of the situation is that Kentucky doesn’t have enough resources – money, prison cells, parole officers – to handle the number of those convicted of criminal charges each year. The parole credit policy, which is part of a two-year budget, may well be the only practical way to deal with the many constraints limiting the state’s criminal justice system.


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