A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

U.S. Department of Justice data reveals Kentucky continues to struggle with high imprisonment rates


New data from the federal agency charged with tracking criminal justice statistics around the nation again highlights Kentucky’s grim per capita imprisonment rate.

For the second year in a row, Kentucky had the seventh-highest ranking in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics Prisoners in 2019 annual report released on Oct. 22. The Commonwealth’s rate declined by 1.5 percent, compared to a decline of 2.3 percent nationally.

Kentucky’s female imprisonment rate is more than two times the national average and third-highest in America, a small improvement from second-highest in 2018.

“This comes as no surprise, because Kentucky has only made modest changes to our justice systems when we have needed bold reforms for many years now,” said Ashley Spalding, research director at the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy on behalf of Kentucky Smart on Crime, a broad-based coalition comprised of partner organizations from across the Commonwealth.

“Kentucky’s lack of progress is directly attributable to an unwillingness to embrace data-driven criminal justice reforms being implemented in a number of other states. Significant changes to our bail, felony theft and probation/parole systems are imperative,” said Spalding.

While Kentucky’s jails and prisons remain full, policymakers in states like Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, Texas, South Dakota, Alaska and Utah are advancing research-based reforms to safely curb growth and improve public safety.

These states are sharpening their sentencing and supervision policies and reinvesting the savings into more cost-effective strategies to reduce recidivism. Some states took the step of modifying their pretrial detention policies so that poor defendants do not languish in jail simply because they don’t have the means to post bail.

Kentucky’s current corrections budget is $633,785,800, making it one of the largest state expenditures.

From Kentucky Smart on Crime


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