The2nd meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary was held on Tuesday, August 19, 2008, at 10:00 AM, in Room 171 of the Capitol Annex. Representative Kathy W. Stein, Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.
Members:Senator Robert Stivers II, Co-Chair; Representative Kathy W. Stein, Co-Chair; Senators Carroll Gibson, Ray S. Jones II, Gerald A. Neal, Dick Roeding, Dan Seum, Katie Stine and Jack Westwood; Representatives Kevin D. Bratcher, Jesse Crenshaw, Joseph M. Fischer, Derrick Graham, Jeff Hoover, Stan Lee, Darryl T. Owens, Steven Rudy, Arnold Simpson, Greg Stumbo, Robin L. Webb and Brent Yonts.
Guests: Secretary J. Michael Brown, Justice & Public Safety Cabinet; LaDonna Thompson Thompson, Commissioner of Corrections; Caroline W. Mudd, Chairperson of the Parole Board; Chris Cohron, President of the Commonwealth’s Attorneys Association; Tommy Turner, County Judge/Executive in Larue County; Steve Pendery, County Judge/Executive in Campbell County; Jo Ann Phillips, Executive Director of Kentuckians Voice for Crime Victims; Charles Zoeller of Judiciary of Louisville and Take Back Louisville; Warden Cookie Crews of the Kentucky Correctional Institution for Women and former inmate Gabriel Cecil; (there was one other person whose name was not obtained) and Mark Mangeot of the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet
LRC Staff: Norman W. Lawson, Chief Staff Analyst; Ray DeBolt, Jon Grate, Joanna Decker, Carolyn Gaines, Secretary and Andrew Howell.
The members of the subcommittee directed by 2008 Senate Joint Resolution 80 were named. They are:
Co-Chair Senator Gerald Neal
Senator Carroll Gibson
Senator Ray Jones
Senator Jerry Rhoads
Senator Richard Roeding
Senator Katie Stine
House of Representatives
Co-Chair Representative Jeff Hoover
Representative Joe Fischer
Representative Darryl Owens
Representative Greg Stumbo
Representative Robin Webb
Representative Brent Yonts
Chairperson Stein asked Representative Hoover if a schedule had been developed for subcommittee meetings to which Representative Hoover responded that schedule development is in progress.
The first speaker was Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary J. Michael Brown who informed the committee of the issuance of a temporary restraining order by Division I of the 28 Judicial Circuit, the Pulaski Circuit Court, which restrains the Department of Corrections from releasing inmates from “releasing from custody any prisoner currently incarcerated within a correctional institution of this state, and from granting a final discharge to any person now subject to parole supervision, as a result of any changed occasioned by the retroactive application of HB 406.” The court limited the injunction to the release of prisoners sentenced from Pulaski, Lincoln, and Rockcastle Counties. The injunction was requested by Eddy F. Montgomery, the Commonwealth’s Attorney from the 28th Judicial Circuit who challenged the retroactive application of House Bill 406 granting credit for “street time” as time in prison to determine a minimum expiration date for the prisoner’s sentence. Secretary Brown indicated that he believed that the action of the General Assembly was correct and is consulting with Attorney General Jack Conway about defense of the case. Senator Stivers requested that the committee ask no questions relating to the matter as it involves pending litigation. No questions were asked. Commissioner of Corrections LaDonna Thompson informed the committee that 1,016 inmates had been discharged from prison under HB 406. There were 887 parolees discharged, 226 persons, 170 of which were inmates, were placed on home incarceration, and that the discharges of the inmates saved the state $500,000.
Commissioner Thompson indicated that the projected savings for the changes authorized by House Bill 406 will be $12.5 million. Commissioner Thompson reported that every inmate with sentence credits had been discharged. Senator Stivers asked if these inmates were all nonviolent, nonsexual offenders to which Commissioner Thompson responded that they were not. Commissioner Thompson explained that since these persons were discharged because they had served their sentence that all categories of inmates had been discharged as required by law. Secretary Brown indicated that all but 102 of the present inmates in Department of Corrections custody will ultimately be released due to expiration of sentence. Those who will not be released have sentences of death or life imprisonment without parole. Representative Owens asked if the Cabinet has a mechanism for recidivism tracking replied that the Cabinet is working on such a system, but that if an inmate who was recently released under HB 406 commits a new felony that it will be some time until they are tried and sentenced and received in prison on the new offense.
Representative Webb complimented the Secretary on the Cabinet’s alternatives to incarceration programs and parole supervision programs and complimented the Court of Justice on the Drug Court program indicating that these programs not only reduce costs but return offenders to productive lives and reduce recidivism. Secretary Brown commented that the power of probation and parole officers to seek revocation of probation or parole is a powerful tool to assure compliance with the conditions of release, and ensure rehabilitation. Representative Stumbo commented that most of the parolees are not “bad actors” who should have been in jail. Representative Stumbo commented that he did not have a problem granting jail credit for parole time but encouraged Secretary Brown to improve public education about the benefits of probation and parole in rehabilitation and reduction of recidivism. Senator Seum asked if parolees are being informed of the new provisions in HB 406 to which Secretary Brown responded, yes. Senator Stivers informed the committee on some of the standard provisions for parolees which include work, avoiding vicious habits such as drinking and drugs, no new crimes, and other specific conditions which may be added for a specific parolee and which are enforced by probation and parole officers with the possibility of returning the parolee to prison for violation of the conditions. Caroline Mudd, new Chairman of the Parole Board, indicated that good institutional behavior, participation in programs, and education earn a prisoner the chance for parole. Chairman Mudd indicated that the Parole Board is currently working on a review program for Class C felons which should be implemented in October. Senator Gibson asked if the state has increased the number of probation and parole officers to handle the increased load to which Chairman Mudd replied, yes. Senator Westwood asked what the current probation and parole officer caseloads were to which the response was 92 regular offenders per officer and 50 sex offenders per officer. Commissioner Thompson indicated that 4 years ago the caseloads were 100 per officer but that the national average is 75 parolees per officer and that more officers are needed. Commissioner Thompson commented that smaller caseloads equal better supervision and less recidivism. Secretary Brown indicated that Representative Webb had filed a bill during the 2008 regular session to increase the number of probation and parole officers.
The next speaker was Chris Cohron, President of the Commonwealth’s Attorneys Association, who indicated that the jury is still out on the individuals released under HB 406. Mr. Cohron indicated the lack of information for victims and the public has been a problem and that many victims are calling Commonwealth’s Attorneys to find out if the perpetrator of the crime against them has been released or will be released. The public and the victims believe that a life sentence means that the prisoner will never be released from prison and are alarmed when this is not the case, Mr. Cohron asserted. Mr. Cohron asked that the subcommittee on SJR 80 and the Criminal Justice Council coordinate their efforts in recommending changes to the Penal Code and the Controlled Substances Act.
The next speaker was County Judge/Executive Association President Tommy Turner who is County Judge/Executive in Larue County who was accompanied by Campbell County Judge/Executive Steve Pendery. Judge/Executive Turner informed the committee that operation of jails is a $130 million unfunded mandate for the counties. Judge/Executive Turner further commented that in 1982 the state created a more equitable means of funding county jails and jail medical costs but that over the years the funding has decreased and the jail population has expanded greatly. Judge/Executive Turner commented that due to HB 406 counties are suffering a devastating loss of revenue and that while the state is saving money the counties are not. Judge/Executive Turner explained that for each state prisoner released from a county jail the state saves $32 per day while only paying $10 in supervision for a savings of $28 but the county, which is counting on that $28 in revenue to pay for jail bonding and expenses, is losing that entire $32. County Judge Executive Turner also explained that in some counties a prisoner charged with a felony may spend up to 350 days in jail prior to trial. At the trial the prisoner makes a plea bargain and pleads guilty to a felony offense in exchange for credit for time served and probation on the remainder of the sentence resulting in the state not having to incarcerate the prisoner and incurring no expense what-so-ever when the county must pay the entire cost of incarceration for those 350 days.
The next speaker was Campbell County Judge/Executive Steve Pendery who indicated that in response to a federal consent decree relating to the Campbell County Jail that his county now has a new 550 bed jail which must depend partially on the state incarcerating promised Class C and D felons in the jail in order to pay for the construction and operation of the jail. On July 17, Judge/Executive Pendery indicated the state prisoners were 40 prisoners below the target amount and that as of mid-August the state prisoners were 60-70 prisoners short of the target amount, thus costing the county $650,000 in anticipated revenue calculated at $10,000 per prisoner. This situation, combined with the state not having to pay for pretrial detention of felons, is creating a financial burden for the county and Judge/Executive Pendery urged releasing misdemeanants first and retaining the felons in jail to save the county money. Representative Webb suggested a need for consistency in local jail programs and local jail operations through a hybrid system of state oversight coupled with state funding. Senator Stivers asked if the medical care changes the General Assembly authorized in 2007 had made a favorable financial impact for counties. Judge/Executive Turner responded that the changes for drugs catastrophic medical care, and health care access had saved counties approximately $7 million. Senator Stivers asked that if the state was to pay for a state felon from the time of conviction or the time of a guilty plea rather than after sentencing to which Judge/Executive Turner replied, yes. Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Cohron indicated that the average time from conviction or guilty plea to sentencing is approximately 30 to 45 days and that part of this delay is attributable to the time necessary for probation and parole to prepare presentence investigations require by law in many cases. Senator Stivers asked if county judge/executives would like to have statutory power to release convicted misdemeanants from jail to which Judge/Executive Turner replied, yes.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Cohron indicated that probation and parole has instituted a new computer system for presentence investigations, which has actually increased the time necessary to prepare the presentence investigation report; that there are 1,400 felony indictments in Warren County each year and that there are only two persons preparing presentence investigation reports in Warren County. Commonwealth’s Attorney Cohron asserted that in his county a modified “rocket docket” providing for quicker trials is in effect but that while there are more arrests there are too few judges, too few defense attorneys and public advocates, too few prosecutors, and that the entire system is underfunded. Senator Stivers indicated that in Clay County the number of felony indictments has risen sharply to 400; that the number of violent offenses has risen sharply and that there is only one Circuit Judge to try these cases; and to try 1,500 civil cases as well which results in the yearlong pretrial jail detentions. Senator Stivers urged continuation of the Senior Status Judge program, as well as investigating the possibility of adding more judges or redistricting the existing districts and circuits so that caseloads around the state are more balanced. Senator Seum observed that in Jefferson County where a rocket docket is in effect that the number of judges has increased from 26 to 40; there are 950 police officers; there are 15,000 unserved felony warrants; and that the system is overtaxed and would be under greater stress if the unserved warrants were served.
The next speaker was Ms. Jo Ann Phillips, Executive Director of Kentuckians Voice for Crime Victims, who indicated that her comments related only to violent crimes and that crime victims feel like Native Americans in that “we are always backing up.” Ms. Phillips asked how we, as victims, can stop being victimized by our own system and that the plight of crime victims is not being discussed. Ms. Phillips urged that young people not be told that “we will reward you after committing a crime by free room and board, health care, education, and state support for your family” while crime victims continue to suffer. Ms. Phillips contrasted the situation where the honest person who has cancer has to pay $950 per month for health insurance, if they can afford it, for cancer treatment while an inmate who is receiving the same treatment pays nothing and is treated at the state’s expense. Ms. Phillips asked how the public, not just crime victims, is informed that violent criminals are being released to return to the community so that they can protect themselves. Chairman Stein responded that the various committees that are studying the criminal justice system and changes to the law “are taking clearly into account the safety of the public.”
The next speaker was Mr. Charles Zoeller of Judiciary of Louisville, and Take Back Louisville who asserted that “we are laying more burdens on the people”, that police are not respected as they should be, and that “laws have divided us.” Mr, Zoeller suggested that members of society be able to protect each other; that a few communities had passed mandatory gun carry laws; that the misdemeanor/felony limit for theft offenses and similar crimes be raised; that the felony child support level be increased because fewer persons would go to prison and more child support could be paid.
The next speakers were Warden Cookie Crews of the Kentucky Correctional Institution for Women and former inmate Gabriel Cecil who spoke of the program at the women’s prison known as The Paws for a Purpose which provides training for assistance dogs for disabled persons. Warden Crews indicated that approximately $20,000 is invested in each assistance dog for training and care. So far the dogs, food for the dogs, crates for the dogs, veterinary care, and other costs have been donated and that the program is operated by no cost to the state and that the actual training of the dogs is handled by selected volunteer inmates and community volunteers who provide weekend outside socialization and outside training for the dogs prior to donation to a disabled person. A short video was shown describing the training program for the dogs, the positive effect on the inmates and the possibilities for inmates upon release relating to related support for assistance dogs and other dogs, and the benefits to the disabled and the public of the program. Ms. Cecil indicated that the program is based on praise and rewards for the dogs and is based on positive relationships between the inmates and the dogs being trained. Ms. Cecil indicated that most of the dogs are Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers, start training at 8 weeks, and are given to disabled persons upon successful completion of training.
The next speaker was Mark Mangeot of the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet who spoke about 2008 HB 364 which would have reallocated funds from the inmate canteen fund at institutions to the General Fund and other purposes. Mr. Mangeot indicated that presently inmate canteen funds, which are generated by purchases made by inmates from the inmate canteen at each institution, are used for funding the college program, supplemental education programs, Prison to the Streets, Cage of Rage, and provide $150 incentive pay to inmates who complete a GED. Other programs which are funded similarly include the Arts Behind Bars program, institutional cable television, ice machines, microwaves, ironing boards, washers and dryers thus eliminating the need to use state dollars for these purposes. Representative Webb praised the dog and other programs but asked for a detailed accounting of the costs for inmate canteen products and disbursements for the program with a particular reference to the costs associated with inmate telephone calls and how that money is spent.
The meeting was adjourned at 12:10PM.