LAGRANGE, Kentucky — Republican gubernatorial candidate Will T. Scott said Friday that non-violent drug addicts should be put on an alternate path in Kentucky's corrections system as a way to bolster public safety, cut prison costs and reduce reoffenders in a state struggling with drug problems.
Using a state prison complex in Oldham County as a backdrop, the former state Supreme Court judge said his plan would steer drug addicts into minimum-security prisons. Those prisons are cheaper to build and operate than higher-security facilities, he said. Minimum-security prison staff would include people offering counseling and education services to help inmates kick their addictions and train them for job skills, Scott said.
Those addicts showing progress in custody could be switched to existing court-supervised, community-based treatment programs that are much cheaper alternatives to prisons, Scott said.
Scott said his plan reflects how soaring illegal drug use has swollen prison populations. In 1972, Kentucky had 2,700 felony inmates in jails and prisons, he said, adding that by 2010, the number had grown to about 23,000. Some 40 percent of inmates are under age 30, he said.
"Our old prison concept of rehabilitation — of changing people's attitudes and lives — worked and still works on mean people," Scott said. "But it cannot, does not and will not work on addiction."
Drug abuse is an ongoing problem in Kentucky, where overdose deaths have outpaced fatalities from motor vehicle crashes.
One of Scott's GOP opponents, former Louisville metro councilman Hal Heiner, would support prevention and treatment programs and back law enforcement efforts to combat Kentucky's drug addiction woes, said Heiner spokesman Doug Alexander.
Scott and Heiner are in a four-way competition for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in Kentucky's May 19 primary. Also running are state Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and Louisville businessman Matt Bevin.
State Attorney General Jack Conway is the prohibitive favorite in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.
Current two-term Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, is term limited.
Scott also offered a plan Friday aimed at better reintegrating drug offenders into society.
He proposed setting up a program in which prison wardens and drug court judges would issue certificates to inmates who earned them upon their release. A fund would be set up to pay businesses for losses suffered due to wrongdoing by those certified workers they hired. Anyone convicted of a crime in Kentucky would pay a fee to support the fund, Scott said. He said the program would encourage the hiring of ex-inmates.
Scott said he also supports allowing certain low-level felons to have their criminal records expunged.
"We must stop the lifetime branding," he said. "Once a person has proven his or her worth, lived a good, productive life long enough for us to know he or she is now one of us, then we need a law where our judges ... can expunge a person's record and restore all of their privileges as a citizen."
Scott's audience included a few supervised inmates assigned to landscaping duties on the prison grounds. As the event ended, he told the prisoners: "Write your families. Tell them to vote for Will T. Scott."