Kentucky governor Steve Beshear’s proposed budget includes an increase in funding of $38.6million to pay for a new 816 bed facility to make room for the projected 6% increase in inmates over the coming years. In this age of overcriminalization and harsher penalties, it seems logical. You have to house them somewhere. What is not logical, however, is a corresponding cut in funding for prosecutors and public defenders.
The budget for public defenders would drop 3.6 percent from current spending, with declines of 2.6 percent for commonwealth’s attorneys and 1.7 percent for county attorneys.
Prosecutors and public defenders said yesterday that increasing room for inmates while decreasing budgets for those who represent and prosecute them makes little sense.
Ernie Lewis, head of the Department of Public Advocacy, said his lawyers are laboring under huge caseloads that far exceed national standards, and they couldn’t handle more cases if budget cuts force him to lay off staff. “Our belt is already so tight that we have no room for budget cutting,” he said.
Lewis said public defenders may have to decline to represent some poor people charged with crimes. “We can’t do more cases than we can ethically handle,” he said.
This just doesn’t make any sense. A decrease in funding with an increase in defendants will result in higher workloads and lower performance. Justice, it would seem, is not high on the agenda.
Yet another twist in the story, however, is a task force assembled to study the penal code and suggest alternatives to incarceration:
Beshear announced a proposal to create a Criminal Justice Task Force, comprising representatives from across the state and all areas of the justice system.
The group will review the state penal code and sentencing guidelines to look at more appropriate punishments and recommend ways to manage the judicial system, he said.
Beshear said he hopes the task force can have some recommendations by the legislature’s next budget session and perhaps find alternatives to incarceration for some defendants.
Shouldn’t they do that first, before they further damage the state of the criminal justice system?
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