Call to Order and Roll Call
The1st meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary was held on Friday, June 7, 2013, at 10:00 AM, in Fredonia, KY at the Western Kentucky Correctional Complex. Representative John Tilley, presiding Co-Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.
Members:Senator Whitney Westerfield, Co-Chair; Representative John Tilley, Co-Chair; Senators Perry B. Clark, Sara Beth Gregory, Dan “Malano” Seum, and Robin L. Webb; Representatives Joseph M. Fischer, Kelly Flood, Joni L. Jenkins, Mary Lou Marzian, Reginald Meeks, Ryan Quarles, Tom Riner, Steven Rudy, Gerald Watkins, and Brent Yonts.
Guests: Alicia Webb-Edgington, APPRISS, Inc.; Lynn Pryor, Commonwealth Attorney Association; and Representative Jim Gooch.
Prior to the presentations, Chairman Tilley called the Committee’s attention to the meeting plan memo in their packets. He reminded the members that there will be no July meeting, but that there will be two meetings in August.
“Doggone Good Work” – Inmate handlers working with rescued dogs
Commissioner LaDonna Thompson of the Department of Corrections (DOC) testified about the dog-training program at Western Kentucky Correctional Complex (WKCC). The Saving Animals from Euthanasia (S.A.F.E.) Program began in Spring 2011 by partnering with Safe Haven of Kentucky to rehabilitate dogs from rescue shelters that are not adoptable. The inmates train these animals through a voluntary program within the prison; by the end of the program, the dogs are able to be adopted. Overall, Commissioner Thompson and her staff are proud of the program’s success and impact on the inmates, animals, and community.
The Population is Dropping! Where did they all go and are they coming back?
Commissioner Thompson testified about the decrease in prison population and programs that are positively impacting this decline. Due to the effects of the 2011 HB 463, inmate population has been declining since February 2013, with the biggest drop occurring in the past three months. The current population of 21,000 is still 2,000 higher than projected. To offset these additional inmate costs, $25 million has been allocated to Corrections from the FY12 General Fund Surplus.
As explained by Commissioner Thompson, the Mandatory Reentry Supervision (MRS) Program has had the greatest impact on the decline in inmate population. This program is designed to help inmates in the last six months of their sentence transition into their communities successfully under the supervision of parole officers. Chairman Tilley reminded the Committee that MRS is not an early release program but is a system that helps inmates improve their chances of successful reentry and reduce repeat offenses. It requires inmates to follow 11 mandatory conditions. The most serious offenders (such as Class A felony offenders) are not part of the MRS program, and they must complete an additional year of supervision. The benefits of the MRS Program discussed include protecting public safety through a better, smoother transition from the structure of prison to the freedom of the community, overall savings, community involvement, and better internal management. Since January 2012, the MRS system has saved $16.3 million by cutting down on days in prison, inmate care, and supervision costs.
Commissioner Thompson announced that paroled inmates are able to complete the their Substance Abuse Program (SAP) within the community rather than in prison. This allows them to be treated at home by their community health services, teaching them to transition into their daily lives and utilize local services. Furthermore, under HB 463, inmates have their parole hearing 60 days prior to their release, allowing DOC to prepare a personal program for each inmate and to succeed in releasing them on time.
Two other programs discussed were the Substance Abuse Program (SAP) and the Kentucky Online Offender Lookup (KOOL). SAP is offered inside prisons and in communities, helping inmates treat their substance abuse problems. KOOL, an already existing system, was expanded from incarcerated inmates to include offenders currently under DOC supervision. DOC is working on a calculator for KOOL that would show the amount of time an inmate would serve for a crime under various sentencing scenarios and estimated future costs for the state. According to Commissioner Thompson, SAP and the KOOL expansion are still young programs, but the DOC is working with a research team to obtain information on their impacts.
Reentry Assessment Tools, which resulted from HB 463, have also been instrumental in reducing prison population. Brigid Adams, Reentry Branch Manager, discussed how these tools provide risk and needs assessment, helping the DOC better manage and provide for inmates and their situations. Needs and risks are reviewed monthly by an executive level team, KARE, who makes these assessments for men and women in jails, prisons, halfway houses, probation, and parole. Since these Reentry Assessment Tools have been implemented in July 2010, over 62,000 assessments have been conducted, and it is predicted that 39,000 will be completed by the end of 2013 alone.
Many programs have been created in an effort to address the risk levels and difficulties offenders face with reintroduction to civilian life. The programs must be evidence-based in order to earn participants sentencing credit, with an emphasis on cognitive-therapy, and they must address crimogenic needs identified by DOC’s assessment. Examples of these programs include InsideOut Dads, Moral Reconation Therapy, Pathfinders, SAP, and Sex Offender Treatment. Program enrollment throughout the prison system is 2,045. Probation and parole programs differ from the former, and they are meant to help an offender with their specific sentence. The Supervision, Monitoring, Accountability, Responsibility, and Treatment (SMART) Program is a program operating in six parole districts to target individuals for pre-trial diversion opportunities. The PORTAL Program, developed by District Supervisor Mark Stonex, uses community-based agencies to teach life skills. Other new and emerging programs include prison extension programs such as 24/7 Dads, in-office programs that help probation officers improve communication with offenders, distance programs like the Carey Guides that offer workbook alternatives ideal for rural communities, and in-community programs such as New Directions.
Responding to Senator Webb’s concerns that these risk assessment tools and the subsequent programs do not address the needs of clients with disabilities, Ms. Adams suggested that parole officers work with their clients to consider these limitations during their pre-sentence investigations. Commissioner Thompson further responded that the DOC is looking at tools to fix this. Addressing Senator Clark’s concerns about proper identification, Ms. Adams stated that inmates receive their birth certificate before release and that the DOC is working with the Social Security Office to help inmates receive their cards.
Ms. Adams identified nine reentry challenges that former inmates face: limited housing opportunities, unemployment, educational needs, mental health issues, healthcare needs, financial instability, family concerns, public perceptions, and transportation. Of these, transportation is the most helpful opportunity for reentry because it allows individuals to attend programs and find employment.
Ms. Adams also discussed the Governor’s Reentry Taskforce, which was created in 2009 to bring state agencies together to improve inmate reentry. Its Kentucky legislative recommendations package included improvements in four areas: housing, treatment, employment, and other needs. Housing improvements recommended by the taskforce were removing barriers for affordable housing and halfway houses, creating tax incentives for those providing housing to former felons, and providing additional funding for the Homeless Pilot Prevention Program. It also suggested addressing treatment needs by reinvesting future savings into treatment services, mandating community SAPs be included in the public benefits section of the new Medicaid bill, creating an intensive case management system for justice officials involved with offenders dealing with mental health issues, ensuring adequate community treatment services through increased funding, and reviewing child support obligations during incarceration and post-treatment. In order to address employment, the taskforce felt that the process needed to be simplified, employment restrictions based on felon status should be modified or removed, the federal work opportunity tax credit should be promoted and a parallel state tax credit should be created, and that prerelease and community-based life skills training should be created and funded. Other needs recognized included automatic restoration of voting rights for ex-felons, the expansion of the DPA’s Social Worker Program, and the support of public assistance and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
More Good News
Deputy Commissioner James Erwin of the DOC discussed the success of three additional programs within the Department: SAP, Medicaid, and Energy Savings Performance (ESP). The SAP program has grown since HB 463 by including inmates who are paroled upon completion. Today there are 3,987 inpatient beds in prisons, jails, and community centers, all of which are filled full-time. The DOC has partnered with Community Mental Health Centers (CMHCs) to treat additional patients, including those inmates recommended for parole. As a result of the 13 new CMHC contracts, an additional 2,000 beds are available for outpatient treatment of offenders. Community outpatient programs outside CMHCs have also been contracted, which will allow a further 700 inmates to be treated, eliminating the waiting list for SAPs. Total DOC substance abuse treatment, including contracted services, assists about 6,000 inmates. Responding to questions from Senator Webb, Deputy Commissioner Erwin stated that the length of stay within a SAP is six months and the average outpatient services cost $17 a day compared to $37 a day for jail services. Additionally, the University of Kentucky is conducting a study on the effects and costs of the SAPs, with subjects being observed for the six months of treatment and a year outside the program.
For medical treatment generally, the DOC has also been working with the state Medicaid program to include inmates who require over 24-hours of inpatient treatment. A pilot program by the DOC enrolled previously disqualified inmates in Medicaid for 2012, and the savings were about $4 million.
The DOC is also making efforts to become more energy efficient through ESP contracts. In 2005, the DOC began a partnership with the Finance and Administration Cabinet to implement ESP contracts for all prison facilities. ESPs utilize low-interest loans for funding and labor to make energy saving changes to facilities and use the cost savings to pay off the loans. The five main types of improvements are lighting, water conservation, HVACs, boilers/chillers/piping, and utility equipment. Responding to questions from Representative Marzian, Deputy Commissioner Erwin stated that the DOC sees the savings from these improvements and immediately puts the money towards loan repayment. However, longer range energy-saving measures, such as solar energy, cannot be implemented because loans require a payback within 12 years while longer term programs such as solar require up to 20 years before a payback.
Now a Word from the Front Line
Warden Steve Woodward of WKCC and Warden Randy White of the Kentucky State Penitentiary (KSP) provided testimony of their experiences as correctional officers and the current financial, personal, and security situation of the employees they manage. Warden Woodward began his career in 1990 as a correctional officer at WKCC where he worked for seven years before being moved into an administrative position, and he has stayed in administrative positions for the past 13 years. Since he began his career, he has seen the WKCC develop its farming operation with about 200 minimum-security inmates and the secure management of about 475 medium-security inmates. Most of the women within the prison struggle with a substance abuse problem and about 18 percent of them have homicide-related charges.
Warden Woodward listed several reasons why corrections work is difficult. First, the bar has been raised nationally with new accreditation, technology standards, and computer-driven management. This has changed the profession and requires a more sophisticated officer. Second, the turnover rate for the profession is high. For example, WKCC has the lowest correctional officer turnover rate in the state, but it remains at 22 percent per year. Furthermore, the prisons are losing their employees to industries offering the same pay with less risk, such as food-service or factory work. This is due to the lack of experience within the field, with about 57 percent of officers possessing less than 5 years of experience. Third, it is a high-risk environment with many opportunities for inmate confrontations and physical altercations, which can involve bodily fluids from high-risk individuals. Fourth, the pay is low and flat with few opportunities for advancement. Warden Woodward, addressing a question from Representative Yonts, stated that the starting salary for a correctional officer is $23,000, making an officer with children eligible for food stamps. West Virginia is the only state with a lower salary, but it offers more benefits to their correctional officers than Kentucky.
Warden Randy White served in the armed forces and attended college before staring as a correctional officer in 1996 at Northpoint. He has since worked in six prisons throughout Kentucky and is currently the warden at KSP. Warden White addressed the primary difficulties facing his staff at KSP, which averages about one violent incident every other day. The first difficulty is severe job-related stress that affects all levels of personnel at the facility. Warden White attributed this stress to the natural adversarial relationship that exists between the inmates and the officers. The second is prison reorganization. Over one-fifth of the Warden’s positions are vacant due to terminations, resignations, stress, or on-duty injuries. This leads to extra stress, overtime, and resources for those officers reporting for work, and the impacts include burnout, early retirement, suicide rates (with KSP reporting three in the past four years), PTSD, impaired family life, death threats, and health problems.
Improvements have been made at KSP though. Warden White stated that the facility had received federal grants for new personal radios with emergency features, an additional 250 high-resolution security cameras, and protective equipment for staff, and KSP is working towards obtaining additional emergency outreach and mental health services for employees attacked on the job.
Fighting Crime More Effectively with Cutting-Edge Technology – APPRISS, Inc.
Alecia Webb-Edgington, Director of the Public Information Management Division at APPRISS, Inc., gave a presentation on the Louisville-based operations and its e-Warrants program. It is the product of all three branches of government, resulting from work with the Kentucky State Police, Kentucky Office of Homeland Security, Office of the Attorney General, the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), and legislators. It was created in response to an LRC study in 2005 which found Kentucky had 385,000 unserved warrants and an average of 674 days required to serve 75 out of 100 warrants. The project began in Jefferson County in 2008, and as of March 2012, it is used in all counties statewide with an average service rate of 81.86 percent for Kentucky, double the national average for warrant service.
e-Warrants generates about 1,011 warrants a day, with the average time to authorize a warrant being 1.55 days and the average time to serve a warrant being 36.6 days. As of May 28, 2013, the total authorized records stood at 1.1 million, as well as 515,913 warrants served and 255,646 rescinded. A majority of records are created in 22 minutes, 20 percent are authorized within an hour, and 40 percent are served in less than a week. Overall, the product has increased speed, data quality, officer and public safety, and efficiency. e-Warrants is predicted to serve 270,000 warrants in 2013 with a possible net revenue of $9.1 million for the year being returned to the General Fund.
Responding to questions from Chairman Westerfield, Director Webb-Edgington stated that the program costs $2.7 million, which comes from Kentucky Homeland Security and the Office of the Attorney General. Fifteen percent of the cost is maintenance, with the possibility of this being offset by allowing non-violent warrants to be prepayable online. Additionally, e-Warrants cannot include search warrants at this time because of previous resistance faced from the General Assembly; Senator Webb reminded the Committee that this was due to concern for the 4th Amendment.
Jim Aquisto, Vice-President of Government Affairs with APPRISS, Inc. discussed the NPLEX program, which is the meth-check system in Kentucky. It is a database that provides real-time information on the purchase of pseudoephedrine-containing cold medicines from stores for law enforcement use. The system matches pending transactions against past purchases throughout the state and across the country to determine if the purchase is legal, if the purchaser has reached their legal limit, or if the purchaser is legally prohibited due to prior convictions from making the purchase. NPLEX operates at no cost to the state, retailer, or law enforcement and is instead funded by the pharmaceutical companies. There are 27 states that operate NPLEX, and retailers in those states are required to submit real-time records of pseudoephedrine purchases. This prevents offenders from going across state lines to purchase illegal amounts.
In Kentucky, NPLEX recorded 1.2 million purchases of cold medicine in 2012 with 32,993 being found illegal and subsequently blocked. In the first quarter of 2013, around 20,000 sales have already been blocked, and NPLEX has been accessed by 600 law enforcement users. The blocked sales are occurring at the same time that a 14 percent drop in meth labs is being recorded in Kentucky.
The meeting adjourned at 12:20 pm.