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Total Correctional Population: 97,900

Number on Parole or Probation: 2,200

Number in Local Jail or Prison: 34,700

Incarceration Rate per 100,000 residents: 780

Incarceration Rate Rank: 8th

Corrections Share of 2018 General Fund Expenditures: 5.7%


“Correctional Populations in the United States, 2016,” U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics. 

"2018 State Expenditure Report," National Association of State Budget Officers 


recently enacted reforms


Senate Bill 57: Provides a mechanism for expungement for those with a dismissal or acquittal, expands existing expungement opportunities for additional felonies.


Senate Bill 133: Bans the shackling of pregnant women, expands treatment for those struggling with addiction, and improves health and hygiene services for all incarcerated women.


Senate Bill 120: Removes prohibition on obtaining an occupational license simply because a person has a felony criminal history, returns licensing discretion to the licensing boards; expands drug diversion programs; establishes a definition of indigence; establishes a Private Industries Enhancement Certification Program; establishes a new reporting and collection mechanism for DOC data; expands swift and certain detention practices for technical probation and parole violations; changes reporting requirements for out-of-state sex offender convictions; allows jails to operate reentry and day reporting centers.


House Bill 40: Expands expungement process to include Class D felonies, prohibits the introduction of information pertaining to an expunged conviction as evidence in a civil suit or administrative proceeding alleging negligent hiring or licensing; expands the scope of an expungement motion to include felonies referred to a grand jury where no indictment ensues.



July 19, 2019

“What we do is find athletes who are passionate about justice reform issues and work with them to help amplify their voices.”

The Justice Action Network partnered with University of Kentucky standout and Pittsburgh Steelers’ Rookie Benny Snell, Jr. to host system-impacted children at a football camp in Westerville, Ohio this week. Nearly 200 kids, aged 6-16, participated in the camp, which was held at Snell’s alma mater, Westerville Central High School. The Justice Action Network worked with groups, including the Boys and Girls Club, to identify kids whose families had been involved in the criminal justice system.

June 14, 2019

“The same crime in two different counties can have very different results when it comes to your freedom, if you’re given financial bail, if you’re held pretrial—even sentencing.”

A new study from the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy found vast disparities between counties in pretrial release and financial conditions of bail. Their reportanalyzed 217,273 cases from 2018. Stark differences applied in financial bail—individuals were released without financial conditions in 68% of cases in Martin County and only 5% of cases in McCracken County. And the affordability of set bail amounts varied widely across the state: in Hopkins County, 99% of those offered cash bail were able to pay it, while only 17% were able to pay in Wolfe County.

May 17, 2019

“By utilizing MAT and improving access to this lifesaving treatment, communities and correctional agents can reduce the risk of overdose and death post-release.”

An estimated 58% of state prisoners and 63% of sentenced jail inmates have substance abuse disorders, and states are using more data-driven approaches to addressing their needs during incarceration and in the reentry period. Kentucky increased funding for naltrexone and substance abuse disorder programs in 2015 that provided structured environments, mentorship offerings and a sense of community. Pennsylvania’s Nonnarcotic Medication Assisted Substance Abuse Treatment Grant Pilot Program funded prison-based social workers and provided naltrexone to inmates upon release. And in Ohio, State Targeted Response funds were used to expand the number of doctors with buprenorphine waivers. 

April 26, 2019

“There is more work to be done, but this is a great sign that we are on the right path.”

New numbers from the Bureau of Justice Statistics showed a continued decline in prison populations, down to 1.49 million from a peak in 2009 of 1.62 million. Five states—New York, New Jersey, Alaska, Connecticut and Vermont—have reduced their prison population by at least 30% in the past twenty years. Not all states have seen declines—Kentucky’s state inmate population increased by 2.3% between 2016 and 2017, and Utah saw an increase of 4.3% in that time frame.

April 12, 2019

“The benefits of Clean Slate are clear: lower crime rates, taxpayer money saved as a result of reduced incarceration, and a stronger economy that allows more qualified job seekers to participate.”

Writing in the Hartford Courant, Right on Crime’s Marc Levin and the Center for American Progress’s Rebecca Vallas urged Connecticut lawmakers to pass the Clean Slate Act pending in the legislature. The Clean Slate Act would provide for the automatic expungement of criminal records for those who have completed their sentence and remained crime free for five years after a non-violent felony, or three years after a misdemeanor. Clean Slate laws have gained traction across the country—Pennsylvania and Utah both passed automatic expungement laws, and Kentucky and New Mexico expanded opportunities for expungement this year.

April 5, 2019

“Rethinking whether these kinds of crimes should be considered violent would change the conversation about what must be done to cut the incarcerated population…”

The Marshall Project conducted a nationwide survey of statutes and found that many people being classified as “violent” criminals have committed offenses most would not consider violent. In Kentucky, possession of anhydrous ammonia with intent to manufacture methamphetamines is classified as a violent crime, and carries a potential sentence of 20-50 years. In Minnesota, possession of marijuana can be considered a violent offense. And in North Carolina, trafficking a stolen identify is classified as a violent crime.

March 8, 2019

 “This investment offers a path to self-sufficiency for impacted people and a rightful level of dignity in society.”

The Coalition for Public Safety announced a partnership with Covington, Kentucky’s Life Learning Center (LLC) and Kenton County’s Commonwealth’s Attorney Rob Sanders at an event on Thursday. As part of a new diversion program, prosecutors will identify at-risk defendants, and the LLC will provide recidivism-reduction programming and access to social services, and help participants find employment or enroll in continuing education. Upon completion of the LLC’s 12-week curriculum, individuals will be eligible for reduced or even dismissed charges. Senator Rand Paul and Kelley Paul were on-hand for the event, along with FAMM justice reform fellow Matthew Charles.

December 28, 2018

 “While Democratic and Republican senators pressured him to bring up the legislation in Washington, he listened to friends in Kentucky who adopted a strategy of flooding him with information, but not pressuring too obviously or too hard.” 
A behind-the-scenes look at The First Step Act’s path to passage highlighted the effectiveness of a serious, sustained, and local effort to persuade Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to give the bill a vote in the Senate. Proponents, including Senator Rand Paul, Representative John Yarmuth, State Senator Julie Raque Adams, and Louisville Urban League President Sadiqa Reynolds helped make the case for data-driven reforms with a record of success at the state level. As the Justice Action Network’s Holly Harris noted, “ultimately the voices that are going to matter to him most are the ones back at home.” 

December 21, 2018

 “It’s time we take the next step to seek a safer and more just system. It’s time to eliminate our wealth-based pretrial detention policy in favor of non-monetary release conditions.”

Dave Adkisson, president and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, and Jason Bailey, executive director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, co-authored an op-ed for the Lexington Herald Leader pushing for significant bail reform in the commonwealth. Adkisson and Bailey pointed to a study showing that 64,123 non-violent, non-sexual defendants were detained in 2016, with an average stay of 109 days. They also cited a state panel report that showed defendants at similar risk levels were just as likely to appear in court and refrain from new criminal activity whether they were released on unsecured or secured bail.

November 2, 2018

“Wealthy people can pay these fees and vote immediately, while poor people could spend the rest of their lives in a cycle of debt that denies them the ability to cast a ballot."

In seven states—Arkansas, Arizona, Alabama, Connecticut, Kentucky, Tennessee and Florida—people with unpaid court fines and fees are prohibited from voting. Other states require that all conditions of probation and parole, including the payment of debt, are completed prior to the restoration of voting rights. Individuals can be charged the for the use of a public defender, room and board while incarcerated, and conditions of probation and parole supervision, and the National Criminal Justice Reference Service found that nearly 10 million people owed more than $50 billion from contact with the criminal justice system.

October 12, 2018

“Kentucky has been a model for bipartisan state-level reforms. Now we have the chance to take the lead at the federal level, too.”

Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Fox News contributor and former Congressman Jason Chaffetz, former U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman and Louisville Urban League President and CEO Sadiqa Reynolds urged action on bipartisan criminal justice reform at a symposium at the University of Louisville’s Brandeis School of Law. Mukasey said law enforcement was open to changing the current system, telling the crowd “if the criminal justice system is supposed to have any kind of transformative effect, it ain’t working.” In advance of Wednesday’s event, American Constitution Society chapter president David Woolums and Federalist Society chapter president Shannon Marie Keene co-authored an op-ed calling for bipartisan leadership on criminal justice reform.

October 5, 2018

“For more than 20 years, the program’s solid track record has convinced leaders in state government, along with local judges, prosecutors and treatment providers, that Drug Court is an essential part of the Kentucky court system.”

Looking to rein in their jail budget and inmate population, Kentucky’s Boyle and Mercer Counties are considering creating certified drug courts. 113 of the state’s 120 counties already have state-certified drug courts, which provide comprehensive treatment and rehabilitation services, frequent non-adversarial judicial interaction, and community supervision. A report commissioned by the counties also recommended refining the use of graduated sanctions, and using discretionary detention for those who have violated a probation or parole condition.

September 14, 2018

“It is recovery, not incarceration, which allows people to become productive members of society—citizens with jobs and families who can contribute and make our communities better places to work, grow and live.”

In the Herald-Leader, author Kelley Paul recounted a visit to Lexington’s Hope Center, and pushed for an end to the cycle of trauma, addiction and incarceration. The Hope Center provides emergency shelter and addiction treatment services, and recently expanded its women’s recovery center.  Paul pointed to legislative solutions, including Kentucky’s Dignity Bill, the FIRST STEP Act, and federal bail reform sponsored by her husband Rand Paul (R-KY) and Kamala Harris (D-CA).

August 31, 2018

“The results of the poll really show this is not a red state issue or a blue state issue, this is a real issue that Americans want to see advanced and they want to see politicians in Washington make progress.”

New polling from the Justice Action Network showed widespread support among Kentuckians for the prison reforms in the FIRST STEP Act and the proposed sentencing reforms that may be added. On a call unveiling the poll results, White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner said the bill will “keep our communities safer, which is a big priority of the president.” Senator Rand Paul pushed for a vote on the bill, predicting that more than 2/3 of the Senate would support the prison and sentencing reforms. 74% of those polled approved of a safety valve to allow judges to divert from mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines, and 70% believed Senator McConnell should allow the prison and sentencing reform bill to get a vote in the Senate.

August 24, 2018

“Incarceration cannot be the only option for those struggling with addiction. We must find ways to divert people to treatment and stem the tide of drug-related crime.”

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer announced a new Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program, designed to divert people with opioid addiction away from the criminal justice system. Rather than being taken to jail, participants will go to a Volunteers of America triage center, where they will receive addiction treatment and wrap-around services. The program will focus on neighborhoods that have been hardest hit by the opioid epidemic. Overdoses in Louisville are down from their peak in the first quarter of 2017, but first responders had given nearly 1500 naloxone doses in the first seven months of 2018.

August 17, 2018

“These governors are invading the federal reform effort, seeking to finally connect Beltway leaders to what is happening in their own backyards.”

Senators are finalizing a federal prison and sentencing reform bill, likely to be introduced in the coming weeks. The reforms are modeled on those implemented at the state level, which have safely cut incarceration rates, improved reentry programs, and lowered crime and recidivism. In USA Today, Governors Ralph Northam (D-VA), Mary Fallin (R-OK), John Bel Edwards, (D-LA) and Matt Bevin (R-KY) encouraged Congress to follow their lead, and pass reforms that promote rehabilitation and workforce participation.

July 27, 2018

“Her profound belief is that answers to vexing criminal justice problems can be best assessed from the ground up.”

The Bail Project, a five-year, $52 million plan to bail out 160,000 people, started in New York and now operates in Tulsa, St. Louis, Detroit and Louisville. In the Bronx, the average bail posted was $768, and the project’s staff worked with clients to ensure that they showed up for court dates. More than half of their cases resulted in dismissal of all charges, and only 2% of clients were sentenced to jail for the original charges.

July 20, 2018

“…a blueprint for treating addiction throughout the criminal justice system.”

In September, Kentucky’s Kenton County Detention Center will launch a first-in-the-nation jail-based treatment program for those with opioid addictions, offering medication and comprehensive therapy. Participants will undergo 90 days of intense addiction treatment, and receive job training and life skills education. Upon release, they will have the option of continuing medication-assisted treatment. The program, Start Strong, was created in partnership with the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, the University of Kentucky, and the commonwealth’s Office of Drug Control Policy and cabinets for Health and Family Services and Justice and Public Safety.

July 13, 2018

“We are just providing the piece of the puzzle that is giving people a job right away when they are getting clean.”

DV8 Kitchen, in Lexington, Kentucky, works with local treatment centers to find employees, hires people with criminal records, and serves a dual purpose as a restaurant and recovery setting. Employees attend mandatory weekly workshops, focusing on record expungement, teamwork, and personal finance. Only 5 of the 25 recovering people hired by DV8 have left because of a relapse or firing, well under the industry average turnover of 70%.

June 29, 2018

“We believe that shedding light on state compassionate release programs is the first step to improving them.”
Families Against Mandatory Minimums released a report this week on the state of compassionate release programs across the country. They found a patchwork of policies, with incomplete, inconsistent and incoherent guidelines and rules. 25 states, including ArizonaIowaKentuckyMichiganMinnesotaNew YorkOhioPennsylvaniaRhode Island and Tennessee, have unclear or insufficient guidance surrounding their compassionate release programs for elderly incarcerated people, and Iowa has no formal compassionate release program at all. The report includes 21 policy recommendations to expand, improve, and publicize programs.  

May 18, 2018

“In 2017, the U.S. prison population dropped below 1.5 million people for the first time since 2004.”

A new report from the Vera Institute showed that the U.S. prison population fell by 19,400 in 2017, continuing an eight-year trend of similar declines. Between 2016 and 2017, Maryland and Louisiana saw the largest single year decreases in their prison populations in a decade. Both states passed Justice Reinvestment Initiatives that reduced sentences and reformed parole and probation policies.  Twenty states, including Tennessee, Utah and Kentucky saw increases in their prison population over the same time period.

March 30, 2018

“I hope this bill starts a national conversation on how we would want our mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters to be treated.”

Kentucky became the first state in the nation to pass a Dignity Bill, as Senator Julie Raque Adam’s SB 133 passed with a unanimous 88-0 vote in the House. The bill, which is expected to be signed by Governor Bevin, would allow pregnant women to enter drug treatment, end the shackling of pregnant women, and provide access to basic health and hygiene services. In North Carolina, the director of state prisons said this week that they would end the practice of shackling female inmates during childbirth.

March 9, 2018

“Whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, whether you are a liberal or a conservative, our core values as human beings require us to advance human dignity...”
On Tuesday, #cut50’s Day of Empathy events brought activists together for lawmaker meetings, rallies and press conferences in 25 states. As part of Connecticut’s Day of Empathy, Governor Malloy proposed legislation that would improve conditions for incarcerated women, including prohibiting shackling women during labor, providing feminine hygiene products at no cost, and establishing child-friendly visitation policies. And this same week, Kentucky Republican State Senator Julie Raque Adams advanced her bill that would limit restraints during labor and delivery and create statewide standards for women in Kentucky’s jails.

February 23, 2018

“There is little consideration for pregnant women and incarcerated mothers.”

Kentucky State Senator Julie Raque Adams introduced legislation this week that focuses on the needs of incarcerated women—providing adequate hygiene products, ending the shackling of pregnant women, and allowing some pregnant women to be released from custody to seek substance abuse treatment. The bill passed out of committee and is awaiting a vote in the Senate. Elsewhere in Kentucky, Governor Matt Bevin and Justice Secretary John Tilley called for legislation to control the growth of the prison population. Kentucky’s prison population is expected to increase by 19% over the next ten years, and the Commonwealth’s prisons will run out of space by May 2019.

February 9, 2018

“Having a parent incarcerated is a stressful, traumatic experience of the same magnitude as abuse, domestic violence, and divorce.”

Kentucky Youth Advocates released an issue brief this week with recommendations on minimizing the impact of parental incarceration on children. Nearly 15% of Kentucky children have been separated from their parent due to incarceration, and the study found this, as an “adverse childhood experience," had a serious impact on short-term health and well-being, as well as increased risk of adult disease, disability, unhealthy behaviors and early death.

February 2, 2018

“The path we find ourselves on is neither fiscally nor practically sustainable.”

Kentucky’s 2017 Police Chief of the Year makes the case for smart, sustainable criminal justice reform in the Commonwealth. The system is clogged, he says, “with people convicted of low-level, nonviolent offenses often driven by substance-abuse, addiction, or mental illness.” Money spent on incarceration would be better spent on treatment, supervision and community services, and the kind of meaningful rehabilitation that will prevent recidivism. 

January 26, 2018

"Armed with even that one extra bit of data, a state can fight its opioid crisis in a new way."

Kentucky’s Drug Overdose Fatality Surveillance System combines death certificate information, post-mortem toxicology and prescription drug history to better understand what drugs are killing people and where. Their data showed that different parts of the state are struggling with different drugs—heroin and fentanyl in Northern Kentucky, and prescription opioids in the east—and they’re working with policymakers and law enforcement to tailor responses to local needs. 

November 21, 2017

“We can’t continue to lock up the problem.” Kentucky’s Smart on Crime Coalition is pushing for measures that will address the growing population of women in jails and prisons. Possible proposals include  an increase in the felony theft threshold, and increased funding for addiction treatment and diversion with a focus on “support and services, not a jail cell.” 

November 17, 2017

Governors gathered to talk about opportunities for reform

The Justice Action Network continued its Governors Justice Series in Austin this week, in partnership with Google, Right on Crime, and the Texas Public Policy Foundation. You can watch the full event here, or watch profiles of the speakers, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, and Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin. Governor Bevin also wrote an op-ed on the conservative approach to justice reform.