Sheriff says new sentencing rules could lead to overcrowding

Published 5:05 pm Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Butler County Sheriff Kenny Harden said at this time, the county correctional facility isn’t facing an overcrowding problem.

However, Harden said with these new sentencing guidelines being brought into effect, he can see it becoming a problem.

“Right now, since the guidelines went into effect (in 2013), offenders can be sentenced to the county jail for up to three years, which puts a burden on the counties rather than the state,” Harden said.

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Harden said offenders, if sentenced, had a 12-month stay on the old guidelines. Now, it’s at 36 months.

“It’s harder to get them in the penitentiary now than it used to be,” he said.

Recently, Sen. Cam Ward (R-Shelby County), Rep. Mike Jones (R-Andalusia) and Katherine Robertson penned an editorial titled “Prison Reform through the Conservative Lens.”

In the editorial, the trio outline ways to address the overcrowding issue, namely improving public safety, cutting costs and creating programs for prisoners who re-enter society with addictions.

Harden said there are approximately 80 residents in the county’s correctional facility, and that it can hold 96.

Many of the inmates are repeaters, Harden said, adding that he has an average of 35 state inmates.

Harden gave a good example of the effect these new guidelines have on inmates.

“For instance, in the past, if we caught someone for selling drugs and charged them for possession of a controlled substance, they’d get 18 months, or a split sentence of 36 months in the penitentiary,” he said. “Now, you’re not eligible for the penitentiary on that. They send them to the county jail.”

Harden said the prisoners wouldn’t be set loose, but “that’s what they’re wanting.”

Harden said his solution would be to build more penitentiaries in the state to house offenders.

“We can’t keep turning and patting them on the hand, and letting them back out on the street,” he said.