Across the nation, nearly 70 million Americans have a criminal record of some sort–including hundred of thousands of Kentuckians. Studies have shown that a criminal record can prove to be an insurmountable barrier for ex-offenders, especially those hoping to successfully reintegrate into society. From housing to employment, the residual effects of a criminal record can limit opportunities to break the cycles of crime, poverty, and re-incarceration. However, hope is on the horizon.
Last week, Kentucky became the 25th state in the nation to initiate “Fair Chance Hiring” practices in regards to state employment. Governor Matt Bevin’s Executive Order–2017-064–prohibits state agencies from inquiring about prior criminal history on initial applications for employment. “Let us do what we can to restore the opportunity, level the playing field and create new chances for people who have made mistakes, paid their dues and want to mainstream back into society because we’re going to need them,” stated Governor Bevin upon signing.
Our recent polling, conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, shows that 82% of Kentuckians believe the state’s justice system is in need of reform. Furthermore, 91% strongly agree that “we should break down barriers for ex-offenders so they can get jobs, support their families, and stop being dependent on…taxpayers money.” Overall, 90% of respondents believe that Kentucky should “reduce costly prison times for low-level nonviolent offenders,” and 63% stated they were “more likely” to re-elect legislators who favored a justice reform agenda.
This legislative session both Chambers of the Kentucky General Assembly are set to consider smart justice policies that are cost-effective, responsive, and prioritize rehabilitation–without coming at the expense of public safety. This is the perfect time for Kentucky to build off the momentum initiated by Governor Bevin’s Executive Order and turn the page on the dated rhetoric of the past.
The results are clear, voters from across the Commonwealth–compromising every demographic–are ready for a justice system that is smart, fair, and cost-efficient. We hope that Frankfort is listening.