Punishment Expert: Kentucky Drug Terms Too Long, Costly


Kentucky's 35-year war on drugs has produced “brutally harsh sentences,” flooded the prison system with non-violent and small-time offenders, and helped push the state budget to the “outer edge of fiscal distress,” says the author of the state's penal code, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal. Penalties for drug offenses have crowded prisons with offenders who pose little risk to others and who are forced to serve lengthy terms that used to be reserved for “society's worst actors,” University of Kentucky Prof. Robert Lawson says in a report on Kentucky's skyrocketing prison population.

Criminal justice officials support some of Lawson's recommended changes, though most are expected to face opposition from politicians who don't want to appear “soft” on crime. Lawson says the state needs to rethink laws that enhance penalties for selling drugs near schools, or while in possession of a gun, when the firearm isn't used in. He calls for the elimination of “double enhancements” that allow offenders to be punished for repeat drug offenses and being persistent felons.J. Michael Brown, secretary of the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, said he would welcome legislative review of graduated drug penalties and other sentence enhancements.

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