The director of the state Administrative Office of the Courts said Thursday that efforts to reduce jail populations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have produced dramatic results.

Laurie Dudgeon, director of the AOC, told a panel about the state’s efforts to reduce the counties load of inmates in jails during a panel discussion on how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting court proceedings. The discussion, which was streamed, was organized by the Council on Criminal Justice.

Dudgeon said the courts and law enforcement have been working to reduce jail populations by courts releasing people from jails when possible, and by officers citing minor offenders rather than taking them to jail.

The reduction in the state’s jail population “has been pretty drastic,” Dudgeon said.

“Our county jail population has been reduced by 38%, which is unheard of,” she said.

While judges have been “outstanding” in releasing defendants, officers are also arresting far fewer people than normal, Dudgeon said.

Typically, about 700 people are arrested across Kentucky every day, Dudgeon said. “We are now arresting, on average, 175 people a day.”

Earlier this week, state Chief Justice John Minton issued a revised executive order on court closures, which included orders that people charged with certain non-violent and non-sexual offenses be released on their own recognizance if they were judged a low risk of committing a new offense. The order also requires people charged with failure to appear in court or failure to pay fines be given a court date after May 31 rather than arrested.

“The focus has really been to reduce the pretrial population,” Dudgeon said.

Court activity has been curtailed in Kentucky in an effort to promote social distancing. Most court hearings, except for emergency hearings, have been canceled. Most criminal hearings that are going forward, such as bond hearings, are being done by video conferencing.

Judicial centers are also closed to the public unless a person has specific permission to enter. The order limiting court activity extends through May 31.

Dudgeon said courts were forced to quickly convert to holding hearings by teleconferencing.

“We were able to utilize technology infrastructure and rely on Skype for business,” Dudgeon said. “Our disadvantage was we’d never used the technology.”

Kentucky courts had to “adopt this technology essentially overnight,” she said.

James Mayse, 270-691-7303, jmayse@messenger-inquirer.com, Twitter: @JamesMayse

James Mayse, 270-691-7303, jmayse@messenger-inquirer.com, Twitter: @JamesMayse

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