Justice Secretary John Tilley prepares to speak on the justice system before the Joint Committee Friday morning. | Photo by Avery Seeger | Kentucky New Era

By Avery Seeger | Kentucky New Era

Kentucky Justice Secretary John Tilley told the Joint Committee on Judiciary recently that the number of inmates in prisons and jails in Kentucky is at record levels, having a population over 25,000. After some investments, he added, the population is predicted to rise and reach over 30,000 inmates.

Kentucky is ninth in the nation for incarceration rates per capita, and second in the nation for female incarcerations, Tilley said.

“Our estimate is that we are out of space — officially out of space. I’m talking about no more use of floors, no double bunking, no more using rec space to house prisoners and inmates. We will be out of space in 2019; that was the number, May of 2019. Now, we think that’s going to be much, much sooner,” Tilley said.

Rehabilitation and therapy for inmates is a key concern. Tilley noted that out of the 71 jails in the state, only 21 to 24 offer some kind of rehabilitation or treatment, which he said is a challenge to help keep people out of jail and reform inmates.

A spike in drug felonies and property crimes are the drivers for the increase.

“I think it’s a huge influx of class D felonies. That’s possession (of drugs like methamphetamine, cocaine, etc.), theft; property crimes, those are the two main drivers,” Tilley said.

“There’s this idea that we don’t incarcerate people that only have possession charges but that is simply not the case. (My data) would suggest that not only do we incarcerate folks who only have possession charges but we incarcerate folks who may have other charges,” he added.

“But their single biggest charge is that possession charge, which is driving everything else and drives issues like property crimes and crimes to pay for their substance abuse, and it’s a cycle we have got to stop,” Tilley said.

However, the state has seen an overall decline in violent crimes.

“Really, other crimes in Kentucky — in certain areas of the state, there’s a little bit of an uptick; for certain ZIP codes, there’s an uptick in violent crimes but overall we’re still in historic lows in terms of violent crimes in the state and in the country.”

Another issue Tilley hit on and discussed with the committee is a large deficiency of correctional officers in Kentucky’s justice system. Tilley said there are about 160 correctional officer vacancies in Oldham County’s Kentucky State Reformatory.

He noted that the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet is looking into changing the requirements for correctional officers to hire more of them.

Currently, a four-year degree in corrections is required to be a correctional officer. However, Tilley explained that they are looking into changing the requirements to include individuals with military or law enforcement experience that have the skills to be correctional officers.

Tilley concluded his testimony with a relatively positive message detailing the statistics of Kentucky’s overdose death rates.

He explained that Kentucky had an increase of 11 percent in overdose deaths last year. However, that number, according to Tilley, is less than most other states, detailing that Indiana had a 34 or 38 percent increase and other states had more.