This Second Chance Month, The Council of State Governments Justice Center staff asked governors from states across the country why reentry is important to them and the communities they govern. Below, find Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin’s reasons why #ReentryMatters.
What does reentry mean to you?
Reentry means providing those in our criminal justice system with a path forward to becoming productive members of society after they have served their time. From the very beginning, America has been a land of second chances. I believe in the importance of supporting basic human dignity. When we hold individuals fully accountable for their actions while treating them with respect in the process, all of society benefits.
In the past decade, what progress have you seen in your state regarding reentry?
In recent years, Kentucky has taken significant steps to become a national leader in criminal justice reform. We have implemented the first felony expungement law in state history, boosted reentry efforts through an executive order promoting fair chance hiring in state government, and enacted legislation prohibiting state government employers and licensing agencies from arbitrarily denying jobs and professional licenses based solely on a prior criminal conviction. We have also established a new Reentry Division within our Department of Corrections to provide every person in incarceration with an individualized roadmap for reintegration, strengthened substance abuse treatment resources, and implemented innovative programs such as the Justice to Journeyman initiative for adult and juvenile offenders.
What issue—or issues—related to reentry do you want to address in your state in 2019?
We are continuing our momentum in partnering with a wide array of public and private sector stakeholders to transform our criminal justice system. Implementing policies that safely reduce our jail and prison populations, putting people who have returned to the community back to work, and creating safer, stronger communities remains a top priority for the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
Why should an average citizen in your state, not necessarily connected to any part of the criminal justice system, care about reentry?
More than 95 percent of all individuals currently in our corrections system will eventually return to their communities upon completing their sentences. Criminal justice reform is not a partisan issue. The reason this has not historically been addressed is that it doesn’t score political points, but it’s the right thing to do. We have taken individuals who had been relegated to second- and third-class citizenship in America and have now given them, along with their families and communities, the opportunity to believe that there is hope.
If you could say something directly to a person on the verge of leaving prison or jail and reentering society, what would you tell them?
In Kentucky, it is our sincere desire to come alongside those exiting the criminal justice system through implementing effective rehabilitation efforts, providing these individuals with the greatest opportunity for success as they reenter society. Pursuit of the American Dream is a powerful thing, and we want to support everyone on that journey—including those whose route has been less than direct.
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