The Safer Kentucky Act focuses on lowering crime and fear in Louisville, as well as other vulnerable neighborhoods across Kentucky.

Safer Kentucky Act: Six Crime Reforms Included and How They Help

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Key Points

  • The Safer Kentucky Act (House Bill 5) is a package of crime-related bills, including six GCO-recommended solutions for restoring community safety. 
  • The bill lowers crime by addressing gang-related violence, updating carjacking laws, facilitating successful reentry programs, and more. 
  • The Safer Kentucky Act is good news for impoverished communities and at-risk populations, which tend to bear the brunt of increasing violence. These public safety reforms will give communities hope and solutions to break cycles of violence and poverty and have better opportunities close to home.

Kentucky is home to one of the most challenging public safety environments in the country. Even so, the state has made positive changes, thanks to crime reduction policies that have increased police funding and established much-needed programs. Louisville, for example, finished 2023 with a 4% reduction in fatal shootings and an 8% reduction in nonfatal shootings. These were the lowest totals in both categories in four years. 

But more can be done to ensure Kentucky residents are free to move about their neighborhoods without fear of personal harm. New legislation called the Safer Kentucky Act (House Bill 5) includes six policy reforms, drawing from GCO’s public safety research, that will restore safety and better opportunities to Kentucky communities. 

What is the Safer Kentucky Act? 

The Safer Kentucky Act is an omnibus crime bill, which is a type of legislation that combines several proposed policy reforms into a single bill. In the case of the Safer Kentucky Act, all the individual provisions touch on some aspect of public safety. 

Proposed reforms cover everything from homelessness to repeat violent offenders. Among these reforms are a handful of changes directly focused on reducing crime and relieving communities of the fear and loss associated with increasing violence.

Higher violent crime rates rob communities of precious lives and lower the quality of life in the most vulnerable neighborhoods. 

Higher violent crime rates rob communities of precious lives and lower the quality of life in the most vulnerable neighborhoods. 

Six Ways the Safer Kentucky Act Addresses Crime

Establishes strategies to lower gang-related violence

Group Violence Intervention (GVI), also known as focused deterrence, is a gang violence reduction strategy, and when implemented properly, it can have substantial impact. 

  • GVI uses an approach known as “call-ins.” Call-ins bring in groups of active gang members to deliver simultaneous messages of enforcement, resources for gang members to better their lives, and community moral voices expressing the unacceptability of the violence.
  • Louisville, KY, has operated a GVI program for a few years, but an interpretation of state law prevents probationers and parolees in gangs from being compelled to attend call-ins. Despite GVI strategies existing across the country, Kentucky is the only state with this participation issue. House Bill 5 clarifies state law to allow this kind of program participation.

Updates state law to discourage carjackings

Kentucky has no state law specifically addressing carjacking. When someone commits a carjacking in Kentucky, they face one of two consequences. They may be transferred to federal court and charged with the federal crime of carjacking. Or they could be charged in state court with a combination of assault and robbery. 

  • The absence of a state carjacking law leads to insufficient punishment for too many carjackers. It also makes tracking and data collection around carjacking more difficult. 
  • The data that is available suggests carjackings have risen significantly since 2020.
  • Passing the Safer Kentucky Act would, for the first time, create a state-level carjacking statute that enables communities to appropriately deal with and discourage carjackings.

Improves parent and guardian involvement in juvenile proceedings 

Building on the parental accountability measures in House Bill 3 (passed in 2023), the Safer Kentucky Act contains a provision that would require one parent or guardian to attend proceedings involving their children or child in their custody. 

By requiring parents to at least be present at their children’s hearings, the idea is that they may be more involved and invested in the child’s success. While there are few good answers in this area, these parent-focused participatory measures can help make a difference on the margins.

Adds life in prison for repeat violent offenders

KRS 532 is Kentucky’s most narrow violent offender statute. It includes what most people would consider the worst of the worst offenses—murder, manslaughter, serious assaults, rapes, robbery, burglary, and so on. 

The Safer Kentucky Act establishes a new “three strikes law” for violations of KRS 532. Conviction of a third offense would result in life imprisonment. 

This measure would ensure that the most violent repeat offenders are appropriately punished. Several studies have found that these types of laws reduce crime, so this change will likely help Kentucky lower crime in the future.

Brings witness intimidation laws into the 21st century 

House Bill 5 would amend Kentucky’s current statute related to intimidating a participant in the legal process. It expands the statute to include harassing communications (as defined in KRS 525.080), making it easier to prosecute and punish anyone who uses electronic mediums like social media to attempt to intimidate and dissuade witnesses in criminal cases.

Makes sure re-entry works

Our criminal justice system has several purposes, but one of the most important is helping convicts rejoin civil society once they’ve completed their sentences. 

Kentucky operates several re-entry programs based on best practices around the country. But do these programs actually reduce re-arrest, re-convictions, and re-incarceration? Right now, we don’t know. 

The Safer Kentucky Act would require regular evaluations of re-entry programs—a practice that would ensure effective programs get the support they deserve. It would also reallocate funding away from programs that aren’t reducing recidivism and put it toward new, innovative approaches.

Who would the Safer Kentucky Act help? 

Low-Income Families and Communities

The effects of crime disproportionately concentrate in our poorest and most vulnerable communities, keeping them locked in cycles of violence, poverty, and despair. The Safer Kentucky Act is a key step to restoring community safety. When public safety thrives, neighborhoods become homes for the education options, work opportunities, and healthy relationships that lift people out of poverty. 

At-Risk Youth and Juvenile Offenders

We know that parental involvement makes a difference in how children’s lives turn out. The Safer Kentucky Act gives juvenile offenders the opportunity to benefit from their parents’ presence as they navigate the criminal justice system and paths for rehabilitation. 

Former Inmates 

Former prisoners who are re-entering society have the best chance for a fresh start when states invest in reentry programs that have a track record of success. The Safer Kentucky Act will improve the support that ex-offenders receive through the criminal justice system. Ultimately, this empowers them to build stable, meaningful, and independent lives after serving their sentences. 

Law Enforcement 

The Safer Kentucky Act would give local law enforcement better methods to deal with small populations who tend to be responsible for the majority of crime. The bill also improves the justice system’s ability to help non-violent offenders and ex-offenders get back on a healthy, stable path. 

Status of the Safer Kentucky Act

As of March 15, 2024, House Bill 5 has passed both the Kentucky House of Representatives and the Senate. The legislation will go back to the House for a concurrence vote on changes to the bill. The final step will be the governor’s signature to sign the bill into law. 

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