A number of politically conservative and religious groups are urging the Kentucky General Assembly to pass into law several criminal justice bills pending during this year’s legislative session.

The groups, which include Americans for Prosperity, Right on Crime, FreedomWorks, Prison Fellowship and others, sent a letter to lawmakers this week asking them to give final approval to Senate Bill 87, House Bill 284 and House Bill 327.

House Bill 284 gives credit on a prison sentence to an inmate that earns a GED or completes a substance abuse or life skills program. House Bill 327 allows a judge to expunge a defendant’s criminal history 30 days after the defendant was found not guilty, or after the charges were dismissed. Senate Bill 87 would give judges more discretion when deciding whether to send a juvenile charged with certain crimes to adult court.

House Bills 284 and 327 have passed the House, and Senate Bill 87 has been approved by the Senate. Aubrey Vaughn Travis, state director for Right on Crime, said the House bills are expected to be called by the Senate next month, while the House is anticipated to call Senate Bill 87.

“Kentucky has the opportunity to take additional vital and courageous steps toward leading the nation in how it handles criminal justice,” the letter says. “Therefore, we wholeheartedly encourage the Kentucky General Assembly to lead and set an example … by passing legislation that reflects the ideals, principles and morals that have always made America great.”

Craig DeRoche, senior vice president for advocacy and public policy for Prison Fellowship, said Thursday that passage of the bills would improve the state’s criminal justice system.

Regarding House Bill 284, DeRoche said, while Kentucky calls its prison system the Department of Corrections, “it has really been the department of punishment.”

The bill “returns some common-sense reforms that yield a huge dividend in public safety,” DeRoche said.

On the expungement bill, DeRoche said if a person cannot have their felony expunged after they “pay their debt” and serve their sentence, “that’s a huge moral conflict for Christian legislators.”

“There are states that are going much further than this bill,” such as by allowing automatic expungements, DeRoche said.

The letter said the groups would also like to see legislators advance House Bill 424, which would raise the threshold for felony theft from $500 to $1,000. House Bill 424 has been assigned to the House judiciary committee but hasn’t yet been called for discussion.

Similar measures have been opposed in the past by the National Retail Federation.

DeRoche said other states that have raised their threshold for felony theft have had positive outcomes. Texas, for example, raised its threshold to $2,500 and the state did not experience an increase in thefts, DeRoche said.

“There was a lot of fear that petty thieves would steal more, and that hasn’t materialized,” DeRoche said.

Travis said there is more Right on Crime would like to legislators to take up such as reforming the state’s cash bond system. A bill that addresses cash bond, House Bill 410, has been introduced by not yet called for discussion.

“Fingers crossed there will be movement on it this session,” Travis said. “If not, maybe next year.”

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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