Kentucky’s persistent felon law often compels judges to add extra years to the sentence of an offender convicted of a previous felony, no matter how minor. According to a new study by the author of Kentucky’s penal code, the state’s 34-year-old repeat offender law is one of the most “draconian” in the country because, unlike in most other states, it is not limited to violent or serious crimes, reports the Louisville Courier-Journal. The study finds the law “deserves a lion’s share of credit for the inmate explosion that has overcrowded our prisons and done far worse to our jails.”
Robert Lawson, a former University of Kentucky School of Law dean, says in his report that the repeat offender law was originally reserved for occasional use against the most incorrigible criminals. But amended by the General Assembly over the years to cast a wider net, it has “pushed the state’s corrections budget off the charts, devoured resources badly needed for rehabilitation” and created the “never-ending demand for more prison space.” The number of inmates serving longer sentences as repeat offenders grew from 79 in 1980 to more than 4,000 by 2004, the report says. The Pew Center on the States found earlier this year that Kentucky’s prison population — more than 22,000 — is the fastest-growing in the nation and could reach 31,000 within 10 years.