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Kentucky Passes Law Reducing Sentences for Drug Crimes


Kentucky has become the latest state to enact sentencing reforms in a bid to rein in skyrocketing corrections costs. Gov. Steve Beshear (D) Thursday signed into law HB 463, a comprehensive corrections bill that will save the state millions of dollars a year, in part by sentencing drug possession offenders to probation instead of prison.

The bill was based on a multi-year collaboration between the Pew Center on the States Public Safety Performance Project and state officials. State officials and legislators working with the project convened a Task Force on the Penal Code and Controlled Substances Act and issued a January report that was the basis for the legislation.

“This overhaul of Kentucky’s penal code is the result of a multi-year effort involving members of the executive, legislative and judicial branches,” said Gov. Beshear. “Over the last three years, we’ve made headway with aggressive efforts to bring common sense to Kentucky’s penal code, and our prison population has dropped each of the past three years. House Bill 463 helps us be tough on crime, while being smart on crime.”

The new law calls for sentences of “presumptive probation” for small-time drug possession offenders, meaning they will get probation unless judges can offer a compelling reason why they should go to prison. It also calls for drug treatment to be made available for drug offenders. It reduces penalties for small-time drug dealing while increasing penalties for large-scale trafficking. And it shrinks “drug-free” zones from 1,000 yards to 1,000 feet.

The law also reduces sentences for small-time drug dealing. Sales of less than four grams of cocaine, two grams of heroin or methamphetamine, or 10 dosage units of other controlled substances will be reduced from a Class C felony to a Class D felony.

“Today, if you sell half a gram of rock cocaine, that’s a Class C felony,” said Van Ingram, director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy. “When the new law goes into effect in 90 days, you will have to sell more than four grams to get Class C. That means instead of a five-to-ten-year sentence, you’ll be looking at one-to-five,” he told the Chronicle.

The new law lowers possession of less than an ounce of marijuana from a Class A misdemeanor worth up to a year in jail to a Class B misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of 45 days in jail, if any jail sentence is imposed.

It also requires reforms of the probation and parole system. It will create “graduated sanctions” for parole violators, allowing authorities to impose short jail stays instead of sending them back to prison for technical violations. And it removes drug offenses from consideration when judges impose sentencing enhancements based on previous felony convictions.

Although crime rates have remained steady or dropped, Kentucky’s prison population has increased fourfold in the past two decades, from 5,000 in 1990 to more than 20,000 now. Drug offenders account for 25% of the prison population, but 38% of inmates admitted since 2000. The state’s corrections budget this year is $460 million, and Kentucky is set to save nearly that much over the next decade by implementing the new sentencing structure.

“Of all the problems I inherited, this is one of the most complex,” Gov. Beshear said. “In early 2008, I directed Justice & Public Safety Secretary J. Michael Brown to convene the Criminal Justice Council and report back on recommendations for curbing the rising prison population. That report, and the work of subsequent work groups, provided the groundwork for much of these reforms.”

“This bill takes major steps to both decrease recidivism while addressing the unique problems Kentucky faces with substance abuse in ways that absolutely enhance public safety,” said Brown.

“House Bill 463 is landmark legislation not only for the positive changes it proposes for our penal code, but also for the manner in which it became law,” said Speaker Greg Stumbo. “Anytime you can bring together as many diverse groups as this bill did, and have them agree, you’re on to something special. Rep. John Tilley and Sen. Tom Jensen did a tremendous job in getting this bill to the finish line.”

“It is the most significant and meaningful piece of legislation that I have had the privilege to work on since being elected to the state legislature,” said Sen. Tom Jenson, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I am pleased that the Task Force on the Penal Code and Controlled Substances is going to continue studying these issues. We have gotten off to a great start and we need to continue working to make things better where we can.”

“I’m pleased we’re making progress in tackling the problems facing our penal code,” Chief Justice of Kentucky John D. Minton Jr. said. “With all three branches involved in this deliberative process, I’m confident that the outcome will be positive for Kentucky.”

“Senator Jensen, Representative Tilley, Senate President Williams and House Speaker Stumbo worked across party lines to look at the data and forge a comprehensive package of reforms that will get Kentucky taxpayers a better public safety return on their corrections dollars,” said Richard Jerome, project manager of of the Pew Center on the States Public Safety Performance Project. “The legislation employs research-based strategies to reduce recidivism, hold offenders accountable and maximize the state’s limited financial resources.”

Sentencing reforms are becoming increasingly popular as cash-strapped states face ever increasing budget pressures. South Carolina, Colorado, New York, and Texas are among states that have reformed sentencing and other corrections practices to lower imprisonment rates and save money. Similar efforts are pending in Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

Sentencing reforms don’t end drug prohibition, but they do somewhat reduce its inhumanity and its costs to society, as well as to the people busted for drug offenses. That’s a start.

Lexington, KY United States

Artilcle From StoptheDrugWar.orgCreative Commons Licensing


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  1. FedUpWithCriminals on

    I live in Marion County Kentucky (Lebanon), home of one of the biggest pot busts in US history back in the late 80s/early 90s. The problem is, it’s still here. I moved back here in 2000. I went on the internet to chat rooms for company, and made comments about how many times I’ve driven down the roads here after ‘revenuer hours’ thru smoke from pot bed burn offs. These burn offs were not from police action, they were farmers burning off that year’s crop stubble to get their beds ready for the next growing season. Next thing I knew, my computer was being hacked regular, I’d come home from work and my previously unplugged computer would be replugged up and running. I had a car I bought from the county (they still had keys) that was tampered with (throttle), and then taken/stolen last year to keep evidence hidden/ The local government had several employees who suddenly changed internet providers without a vote, and then recently changed back to the previous one. I guess this gave them a reason to reformat or erase their tracks after I had posted about them hacking computers on a news website about the 6 most corrupt cities in the US. I was on Rand Paul’s website and left a message that with the local government trying to steal my home (I have not been allowed to have mail since 2009, have been followed, my home has been illegally entered by them repeatedly, they’ve taken my personal property and divided it among themselves, terrorized me, and so much more), and stated that it was wrong that they should be able to steal my things to cover the pot growers here. I’m not the criminal and I resented my life’s works/possessions, etc., being stolen to pay directly or indirectly for the local criminal officials. Evidently Paul forwarded it to local rep. Jimmy Higdon, who did a stare down on me, very intimidating,, and later took bows for creating jobs at a company in a county he doesn’t represent, I had just been fired from. Evidently his influence crosses counties. Now, I found out he is also working to get laws changed to allow hemp growing. In Marion County and surrounding counties, governing themselves on pot growth, that is the equivallent of putting a pedophile in sole charge of a daycare 24/7. They are so wrapped up in illegal activity here that even when I sent a fax from the local library to the EEOC/Human Rights Commission, the worker at the library ran it through the scan copy part of the copier before she sent my fax. That fax had my SS nu on it, and mentioned Higdon. There is so much more. Just arrest the criminal government officials.

  2. marijuana is a completely natural substance that just so happens to give you a euphoric feeling. the worst thing that could happen on weeds you pass out, big deal as long as you don’t hit your head. but when you wake up you feel like a million bucks. which is less than the government spends in 12 hours on fighting marijuana usage. and the money spent on this but non violent other wise law abiding citizens in prison with the rapists murders and child other violent offenders. would you really want your kid behind bars with these sadistic assholes .

  3. More people die of legal prescription drugs than heroin, cocaine, and meth combined. Most people locked up are there strictly for drug possession with no violent or other prior offenses. Here’s a cool idea why not offer rehabilitation since prison has a return rat of about 75% which clearly means it’s no deterrent for the people that go there. I really don’t believe any person should be lock up for doing something that only affects the individual. If you want information there is this nifty new thing called google, I suggest you try learning how to use it. If you actually tried looking in to the information about this subject instead of listening to all the spoon fed bullshit you might end up with a different opinion. Here is a fact for you conservatives say there is no medical use for marijuana, but they will also talk about and synthetically derived drug called marinol that is pretty much weed in a pill form that the pharmisutical companies make. I personally had a friend had a friend who almost died of crones disease he tried all that modern medicine had to offer. He was couple months away from dying He started using pot and since then he has had a full recovery. If you don’t believe me there are many testimonials out there.

  4. So my question is why are some of the judges in certian counties are not following these new laws, and is there a way to get a hold of someone above them to ask why they are not following the new law? Anyone know?

  5. Charles, you are an idiot. You offer no evidence to support such an outrageous claim. People like you make ME ashamed! Please move out of our beautiful state and we’ll BOTH be happy!

  6. Wonder what the penalty might be if you’re growing under 5 plants, which may yeild more than 8 ounces?

  7. Im glad we finally have a governor that knows what is going on. Take the black market away and you have less crime.

  8. Drug users are generally not criminals. They are peaceful people engaging in a voluntary activity that should be respected under life liberty and pursuit of happiness. Especially in the case of marijuana users. No one dies because of the marijuana itself (sans the danger of the black market itself) while thousand die each year from properly prescribed medications from their doctor.

    If you want to be free you have to allow others to be free as well, even if you don’t always agree with their decisions.

  9. this new law will only make drug use worse than it is. i’m ashamed to say that i live in a stupid state such as Kentucky. ( Home Of The Pillbillies ) lock up the drug user’s. do not let them go FREE,

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