Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin says Tennessee is about a decade ahead of his home state on many fronts, especially economically — but Kentucky’s neighbor to the south could learn something when it comes to changing how the state deals with prisoners.
“Republicans tend to pride themselves sometimes on being law and order people. We are tough on crime, and that’s great,” says Bevin. “And we should.”
Bevin, who came into office after a Democratic governor, said conservatives should be “bold” and take the lead, even on an issue that’s largely been promoted by Democrats.
He was speaking to a group of largely conservative politicians and business leaders at a criminal justice symposium in Nashville this week.
Other panelists included Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall; Verna Wyatt from Tennessee Voices for Victims; James Amundsen, Deputy Director of Americans for Prosperity-TN, a conservative advocacy group funded by the Koch brothers; and Anthony Charles, a former inmate and graduate of Men Of Valor, the prison ministry organization hosting the event. Vikrant Reddy of the Charles Koch Institute moderated the panel.
“What we are doing is not serving us well,” says Bevin. “We are very good at removing people. We are very good taking those who have done wrong and holding them to account and removing them from society. What we are not good at and have never been that great at frankly, is rehabilitating people.”
Since Bevin took office, he’s ordered that applications for government jobs not require disclosure of a conviction. The legislature expanded the number of offenses that can be expunged and reduced some restrictions on job licenses needed for landscapers and barbers, among others. That’s an issue that Tennessee lawmakers are debating this year.
While Kentucky has made some changes, it still ranks as one of the top ten states with the highest percentage of residents behind bars.
Bevin says that it will take time to see the results of the new initiatives.
This post has been updated to include the name of the panel's moderator.