infant dr martens Officials say supervision key to MRS inmate reentry
Starting next month, probation and parole officers across the state, including Rowan County, will begin supervising a larger number of clients set to be released from state prisons.
On Jan. 2, approximately 1,160 offenders and up to 300 each month thereafter, will return to Kentucky counties through Mandatory Reentry Supervision (MRS), a statutory provision of the Kentucky General Assembly’s sweeping penal code reform bill to reduce prison populations and costs and to bolster public safety.
According to the law, “the board shall order mandatory reentry supervision and the terms of supervision, which may include electronic monitoring, for an inmate who has not been granted discretionary parole six months prior to the inmate’s minimum expiration of sentence.”
Supervision is the key word to emphasize, according to both DOC and Rep. John Tilley (D Hopkinsville). Tilley is the chairman of the Kentucky General Assembly House Judiciary Committee and the sponsor of HB 463.
“These offenders are not just being turned out into the community in large numbers,” Tilley said. “They are being paroled to their communities under the supervision of trained parole officers.”
This means former inmates will report regularly to a parole officer, be subject to drug screens, and must remain in compliance with their release conditions.
Both Tilley and DOC officials maintain that misinformation about MRS obscures both the intent and reality of the coming reentry program.
“The inmates scheduled for release as a result of MRS would serve out and be discharged in another six months anyway,
” said DOC Public Information Officer Todd Henson. “The only different is that in six months they would be released on the streets with no supervision, no assistance and no resources made available to them.”
Henson said MRS allows inmates to reenter society under the supervision of a parole officer and access resources necessary to make a smoother transition.
Tilley said MRS addresses Kentucky’s need for a better inmate reentry system.
“Kentucky had been behind the national curve in its sentencing and corrections policies for more than a decade,” said Tilley.
He said several sections of HB 463, including the MRS provisions, will effectively end what has been referred to as “the handoff”.
“We were doing a miserable job of turning people loose, sometimes with dangerous mental health and substance abuse issues,” said Tilley.
He said the state was releasing inmates
from prison at the end of their sentences or upon parole with very few resources.
“Sometimes they were released without so much as ID card. We told them ‘good luck with your substance abuse and mental health issues’ It was almost a joke.”
Tilley said the parole offices are set up to help MRS clients reenter society by directing clients to transitional services such as mental health and substance abuse referrals, social service and education programs.
Despite its intentions, strong criticism of MRS remains. There is concern about former inmates reoffending which, in turn, would increase the financial and administrative burden upon the courts and county jails.
In Rowan County, Chief Circuit Judge Maze, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Ronnie Goldy and other officials are vocal critics.
As a former prosecutor, Tilley said he is sensitive to those concerns and especially to concerns from the general public.
“The real public safety concern is that they don’t reoffend,” said Tilley.
He said MRS can be a valuable tool for reducing recidivism.
“They are coming back to their home communities and will be supervised in a way that doesn’t have a negative impact on public safety,
” he said. “We want to lessen the chance that someone will rob or burglarize your home.”