Commentary: Breaking Kentucky's prison and poverty cycle

The Lexington Herald-LeaderNovember 29, 2010 

One popular definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results.

By that measure, Kentucky is off-the-walls wacko when it comes to locking people up.

That's not news, but it is reinforced by a recent report from the Pew Charitable Trusts about the impact of imprisonment on economic mobility.

We've known for a long time that the economics of locking people up are simply terrible. It costs a lot of money, there's little indication that locking more people up has made us safer and the people imprisoned have a hard time becoming productive taxpaying members of society upon release.

The Pew study takes this all a step further by looking at the impact on the economic prospects of the families of people imprisoned.

The findings aren't surprising, but they are both eye-opening and dreadful:

"Former inmates work fewer weeks each year, earn less money and have limited upward mobility. These costs are borne by offenders' families and communities, and they reverberate across generations," the report notes. The Pew report takes a national view so there are no Kentucky-specific data. But a 2008 Pew study in found that Kentucky had the nation's fastest-growing prison population.

Since 2000, the number of people locked up in Kentucky has grown 45 percent, compared with 13 percent for the rest of the nation. Total state spending on corrections reached $513 million last year, up from $117 million at the end of the 1980s.

To read the complete editorial, visit

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