Annual U.S. Department of Justice Data Shows Kentucky Continues to Struggle with Persistently High Imprisonment Rates

Seventh-highest overall rate, third-highest female rate point to need for serious action from state lawmakers

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LOUISVILLE, KY — New data from the federal agency charged with tracking criminal justice statistics around the nation again highlights Kentucky’s grim per capita imprisonment rate. For the second year in a row, Kentucky had the seventh-highest ranking in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics Prisoners in 2019 annual report released on Oct. 22, 2020. The Commonwealth’s rate declined by 1.5%, compared to a decline of 2.3% nationally.

Kentucky’s female imprisonment rate is more than two times the national average and third-highest in America, a small improvement from second-highest in 2018.

“This comes as no surprise, because Kentucky has only made modest changes to our justice systems when we have needed bold reforms for many years now,” said Ashley Spalding, research director at the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy on behalf of Kentucky Smart on Crime, a broad-based coalition comprised of partner organizations from across the Commonwealth. “Kentucky’s lack of progress is directly attributable to an unwillingness to embrace data-driven criminal justice reforms being implemented in a number of other states. Significant changes to our bail, felony theft and probation/parole systems are imperative,” continued Spalding.

While Kentucky’s jails and prisons remain full, policymakers in states like Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, Texas, South Dakota, Alaska and Utah are advancing research-based reforms to safely curb growth and improve public safety.

These states are sharpening their sentencing and supervision policies and reinvesting the savings into more cost-effective strategies to reduce recidivism. Some states took the step of modifying their pretrial detention policies so that poor defendants do not languish in jail simply because they don’t have the means to post bail.

Kentucky’s current corrections budget is 633,785,800, making it one of the largest state expenditures.

About Kentucky Smart on Crime:

Kentucky Smart on Crime is a broad-based coalition working for common-sense justice reforms that enhance public safety, strengthen communities, and promote cost effective sentencing alternatives. Partner organizations include American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, Kentucky Council of Churches, Catholic Conference of Kentucky, Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs, Inc., Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Kentucky Youth Advocates, Volunteers of America Mid-States, Inc., NAACP Kentucky, Kentucky Criminal Justice Forum, and United Way of Kentucky. For more information, visit: or @kysmartoncrime on Twitter.


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