Of the more than 35,000 Kentucky jail inmates released rather than jailed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, most have remained free without committing a new offense.
The data on releases and re-arrests was compiled by the state Administrative Office of the Courts and presented to lawmakers last week.
Inmates awaiting the outcome of court cases in jails were evaluated for release by Pretrial Services, which gauges the risk an inmate poses to the community and of committing a new offense. Between April 1 and July 31, 20,470 inmates were released from jails on a judge’s order, and 15,028 released on “administrative release.”
Administrative release is usually for a person charged with certain misdemeanors, who is released on their own recognizance. Who was eligible for administrative release was expanded in April in response to the pandemic, with administrative release being granted to non-violent, non-sexual class D inmates who were not judged to a high risk of committing a new offense, and people who normally would have been arrested for violations like contempt of court, failure to appear at a court hearing on most civil matter, and for failure to make child support payments.
Of those 35,498 inmates, 2,648, or 7%, committed a new offense while released, according to AOC data. Most of those offenses were either class A misdemeanors, class D felonies or class B misdemeanors, according to the data. A class D felony is the lowest form of felony.
Tara Boh Blair of the AOC’s Pretrial Services office said traditionally 10% of defendants are released on administrative release each year. In April, 39% of defendants who qualified were granted administrative release, Blair said.
Of people who were released and then arrested on a new offense, “the majority were (for) class A misdemeanors,” Blair told the General Assembly’s interim committee on judiciary last week.
Who was eligible for administrative release was tightened over time, with the Supreme Court ordering people charged with failure to appear, failure to pay fines and contempt of court arrested rather than released in June.
The pandemic has slowed the court process, because courts were forced to reset most cases when judicial centers were shut down. Blair said because cases will take longer to resolve this year, “I predict we’ll see a higher re-arrest rate than we have in the past.”
Arrests statewide plummeted between March 15 and May 31, with 18,873 people arrested statewide. People were cited to court rather than arrested if they were charged with non-violent or non-sexual offenses, or weren’t charged for an offense that created a hazard, such as driving under the influence or public intoxication.
By comparison, 41,219 people were arrested during the same period statewide in 2019. Since June 1, 29,536 people have been arrested — which is still far below a normal year.
Arrests “are beginning to return to pre-COVID levels,” said Laurie Dudgeon, the AOC’s director
The pandemic changed the way Pretrial Services does risk assessments, in that pretrial officers are doing remote assessments rather than at jails. That has allowed Pretrial Services “to serve every single jail 24/7, Blair said.
Also, expanding administrative release has been discussed by legislators before and was adopted during the pandemic. “I know that is something that has been on the agenda for years,” Blair said.
James Mayse, 270-691-7303, firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @JamesMayse