State government giving much-needed second chances with criminal expungement bill

Editorial board

Prisoners are often the forgotten block of American society. While not acceptable, this is somewhat understandable, since they are, by definition, being punished for committing a crime deemed worthy of imprisonment. But America is the land of opportunity, and our citizens deserve a second chance.

Members of the Kentucky Senate embraced this philosophy in March when the Senate passed a bill giving nonviolent offenders the ability to have their records expunged.

The bill went to the Republican-led Senate after passing the Democrat-led House, and language was added that would require eligible offenders to wait five years after their sentences are finished, including parole. The bill will now go back to the House for approval of the changes.

About half of federal prisoners and 16 percent of state prisoners are serving sentences for drug-related offenses – the majority of those being for marijuana. About 35 percent of prisoners are serving sentences for “public-order crimes,” or crimes deemed outside of the normal behavior of society. Only about 8 percent of criminals are serving sentences for violent crimes, as of 2011.

This data tells us that the vast bulk of federal prisoners are serving sentences for victimless crimes. The expungement bill does not apply to violent criminals or those convicted of sex offenses, which is reasonable. Violent and sex criminals are guilty of crimes where a victim was involved, and those who come into contact with them have a right to know that ex-prisoner’s history.

Gov. Matt Bevin has said he will sign the bill into law if it reaches his desk.

“We are a nation of second chances,” Bevin said in a speech in January. “We are a land where redemption matters for something.”

In December, Bevin reversed an executive order by former Gov. Steve Beshear that granted restored voting rights to most nonviolent ex-prisoners. With the expungement of records, this bill will essentially accomplish the same thing as Beshear’s order, so it is hard not to call Bevin’s actions petty and political.

Politics aside, this bill is a monumental victory for America’s most underrepresented subgroup, and the state government deserves applause for pushing the bill closer to a reality.

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