Kentucky Governor Ernie Fletcher wants to put more drug offenders in treatment instead of prison and to expand the network for treating people with substance-abuse problems, reports the Louisville Courier-Journal. The state plans to cut the number of nonviolent offenders behind bars and may defer opening a 1,000-bed prison under construction, said Lt. Gov. Steve Pence, Fletcher’s justice secretary. Pence plans to eliminate by April a backlog in testing evidence at state crime labs, expand drug courts, and conduct a comprehensive review of the state’s drug problems and the resources to combat them.
A possible delay in opening the $90 million prison, scheduled for completion in June, shocked House Democratic Leader Rocky Adkins, who represents the area. “I’m going to do everything I can to keep that project on schedule,” he said.
Pence said the 300 jobs the prison would create are important, but need, not jobs, should dictate when the prison opens. “I don’t think we can let that be our driving force on our rate of incarceration,” Pence said. “Somebody has to pay for this.”
State prisons now house about 11,900 inmates, 400 under capacity. Keeping people out of prison saves the state the annual cost of about $17,200 per inmate.
Advocates say expanding treatment is long overdue. An estimated 348,000 people in Kentucky have a substance-abuse problem – drugs, alcohol, or both. Last year, 22,000 people received substance-abuse treatment. The state has nowhere near adequate resources, said Karyn Hascal of the state Division of Substance Abuse. “We’re pretty busy trying to Band-Aid the system and deal with the lines of people at the door,” she said.