Logan County Attorney Joe Ross

Logan County Attorney Joe Ross

County Attorney Joe Ross is concerned about a recent bill introduced this session to reform the criminal justice system in the state of Kentucky. HB 396 proposes drastic changes to almost all of the criminal laws and procedures currently in effect in Kentucky.

"I encourage you all to keep an eye on this bill," said Ross to members of the fiscal court Tuesday, Feb. 27. Ross said he felt the ramifications of such a bill if passed would have a negative human effect as well as a financial one for the counties.

Ross said the bill would reclassify first-degree possession of a controlled substance from a Class D felony to a Class A misdemeanor for first and second offenses, require probation to be imposed for the offense unless the defendant has been convicted of certain violent or sexual offenses within the last five years.

"Though much of the bill concerns me, some of the drastic changes to our felony drug laws are what concern me most. Under this bill, all felony possession of controlled substances cases would become misdemeanors for first and second offenses. This would make possessing drugs such as heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine misdemeanors," said Ross.

The purpose of this bill appears to be to cut the cost of incarcerating state prisoners for felony drug sentences. However, according to Ross the result of the bill will not actually reduce these costs, but shift them down to the county for the taxpayers to bear the cost of incarcerating these individuals in county jails.

"This cost would be significant," Ross added. "All of those sentences or failed probated sentences would be served day for day in the county jail for up to 12 months at a cost of $35 per day. This would also greatly reduce the number of class D inmates housed in our local jail for which the county is reimbursed by the state at a rate of $31.34 per day. My estimate is that this would cut the class D population from anywhere between 25-40 percent or more."

The human toll could be even worse than the financial cost, said Ross.

"Addicts will not receive the treatment they need, as district courts are ill-equipped to address such serious problems with the limited resources we have," Ross said.

Additionally, available beds in drug treatment facilities give priority to felonies. Felony convictions and sentences are often the only things that will make an addict face the reality of their addictions as the punishment is much harsher than with a misdemeanor. Addicts frequently choose to serve out a maximum misdemeanor sentence rather than go to rehab, as the jail sentence is a shorter period than a rehab stay.

"This will result in an increase in crimes against victims, as many thefts are motivated by the criminal's need to supply their addiction," reported Ross. "An increase in overdose deaths is also a real possibility as many of the people currently seeking treatment stemming from the harsh realization of a felony prosecution will now go untreated until a third or fourth offense."

The bill also proposes a rise in the theft threshold from $500 to $2,000, meaning that every theft that is less than $2,000 would now be considered a misdemeanor.

"This again merely moves the financial burden of incarceration to the county level, and reduces the deterrent effect on thefts, which hurts our local merchants and citizens," Ross added. "I would encourage everyone to review the entire bill and all of the changes it proposes."

Logan County Attorney Joe Ross