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Governor Candidate Pitches Drug Rehab Plan in Newport

The latest Bluegrass Poll shows that Hal Heiner leads the Republican field for governor in 2015 with 28 percent of the vote, while Louisville businessman Matt Bevin and Agriculture Commissioner James Comer are tied at 20 percent and former state Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott has eight percent.

Scott was in Northern Kentucky on Wednesday where he made a major policy announcement at press conference in front of the Campbell County Detention Center Administration Building in Newport, concerning his proposed state program that he says will better address the influx of crime in the state related to heroin.

Scott proposes a Kentucky Certified Worker program funded with fees charged to inmates to insure against losses caused by rehabilitated felons. The program, Scott says, will provide an opportunity for rehabilitated Kentuckians to build productive lives as opposed to a life sentence in the shadows or worse.

In his plan, Scott says that part of the solution to Kentucky's worsening drug problems is a more comprehensive use of drug courts with an emphasis on rehabilitation outside of prisons and in minimum security facilities for less money than residents currently spend.

One of the goals of his proposal is to not only rehabilitate drug felons, but also to remove what he calls the brand they receive by the community once they are released.

“To keep people safe, I have to give drug addicts their confidence and pride back and this program does it.”

He identified three primary changes he would implement if elected:

The first is to form relationships between drug court judges and the Kentucky Department of Corrections, using proven drug court concepts on both an entry and re-entry basis. The new partnerships, he says, should enhance recovery rate for new nonviolent criminal addicts, from the current rate of around 45 percent to upwards of 70 percent. The rest, he said, would be kept away from the public until they can prove they are safe again.

The second change is to build and use lower-costing minimum-security prisons to catch first-time failures from the Drug Court and corrections partnerships. Scott says that the new minimum-security prisons cost much less to build and operate and that he estimates the cost of beds being as low as $6,500 a piece versus the $100,000 per bed in the medium-security prisons. He plans on using the saved money for skills-training facilities that will provide skilled workers for businesses statewide, along with addiction recovery specialists such as peer counselors, psychiatrists, and psychologists.

A third change is to allow Kentuckians to use Casey's Law—a law that allows judges to put addicted family members into minimum-security prisons for involuntary treatment, education and skills training without the cost of private treatment that families are currently expected to pay.

To do all of this, Scott wants to create a Certified Worker Program, paid for by fees on each criminal as they enter the the system. Judges and prison wardens may issue a certificate to prisoners who earn it which tells employers that the Kentucky Certified Worker's Fund will reimburse businesses that incur any loss or liability by involving rehabilitated workers.

“We must stop the lifetime branding once a person has proven his or her worth,” Scott said in his speech. “We need a law where our judges—after evidentiary hearings—can expunge a person's record and restore all of their priveleges as a citizen, even gun rights for hunting and self-protection.”

The program is intended to provide non-voilent drug offenders with a second chance to enter the job force after they have proven themselves to be good citizens through the rehabilitation process. The focus is to not only to prevent repeat drug offenses but also provide drug felons with a sense of self-confidence that allows them to do their job and become a good citizen in the community.

“That means a decent job and, as Merle Haggard sang, 'having pride in who I am'.” Scott said.

Scott said that drug addiction has impacted his family and that he knows personally the joy of recovery.

“The whole key of what I'm telling you are things I've lived and learned. Just as soon as you go through those doors,” Scott said, pointing to the Campbell County Detention Center Administration Building, “and you sit inside that cell and you can't get out, physiologically cravings disappear. They can stay five or ten years, but as soon as they walk out that door and the see the outside, they're consumed by cravings, and believe me, an addict doesn't have a choice.”

Story & photo by Bryan Burke, associate editor