Expungement: Don’t sacrifice the very good for the perfect

By Jim Waters - Bluegrass Beacon

Like churches and politicians, no legislation is perfect.

It, like all of us in fact, is flawed because it’s written by sinners, some of whom have taken the necessary steps to find redemption.

Of course, in the eyes of God, sin is sin. Period.

Sin enjoys no sliding scale or grading on the curve with the Almighty. There’s no such thing as Class C Idolatry or Third Degree Adultery as sub-categories of the Ten Commandments.

However, the Mosaic law’s criminal-justice system’s punishments fit the crimes and no more.

Wisdom dictates we make attempts – imperfect though they may be – to return to that approach.

An effort led by Reps. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville, and David Floyd, R-Bardstown, to offer Kentuckians who have committed low-level, nonviolent, nonsexual or non-abusive crimes and fully served their sentences the opportunity of expunging their records has cleared the state House each of the past few years – including House Bill 40 this year – by overwhelming bipartisan margins.

While Gov. Bevin supports an expungement policy, the Kentucky Senate has drug its proverbial feet.

The most vocal of a handful of legislators opposing this proposal is talented attorney Rep. Robert Benvenuti III, R-Lexington, who encouraged legislators to “not look at this in broad brushes” and to “make thoughtful decisions based on the facts because you can expunge somebody’s record, but you can’t expunge facts. You can’t expunge behavior. That’s the reality.”


So let’s give Benvenuti the opportunity to expunge from his alternate reality that this bill is loose, dangerous and lacking a thoughtful approach.

It may not be perfect, but it’s certainly not a get-out-of-jail-free policy.

Rather, it requires those who have committed low-level, nonviolent felons to complete jail sentences, pay all court-ordered fines and restitution and wait five years, during which time they must live squeaky clean, before petitioning the court – all to get a single low-level felony offense removed from their criminal record.

Common sense dictates that if someone’s avoided trouble and navigated that long maze, the risk of them backsliding criminally is negligible.

“Remember, we’re talking about people who have committed a low-level nonviolent felony offense once in their life,” Owens said. “If you’ve got two or three, this bill doesn’t help you.”

We should, however, help single mothers like Rebecca Collett, who – like too many in their younger years – became, in her words, ensnared before she “ever heard the word addiction” and “started making partying a priority and everything else was placed on the back burner.”

It landed her a 22-month stint in Hardin County Detention Center’s substance abuse program.

While the facility did a stellar job of providing Collett with the tools needed to overcome her addiction, it could do nothing about relieving the additional “time” she’s been forced to serve since her release.

“Once I was out of jail, I was reunited with my children; I was eager to begin our journey together,” she said. “But what I didn’t know was that my sentence was far from over.”

Collett couldn’t catch a break.

“At every interview I was turned down – even at fast-food restaurants,” because she had to admit being a felon. “I finally got a job at a local McDonald’s, but it wasn’t near enough to support my family.”

Even as she started seeking to further her education, “I was still plagued with the wreckage of my past.”

Collett’s determined persistence has kept her drug-free for seven years and will in May land her a Master’s Degree in Science and Social Work from the University of Louisville.

“I’m committed to supporting others on their path to recovery,” she said. “I strive to be the best parent I can be to my amazingly beautiful and wonderful children. I am by no means perfect, but I know I deserve a second chance.”

She and 94,644 of her fellow Kentuckians.


By Jim Waters

Bluegrass Beacon

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com. Read previously published columns at www.bipps.org.

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com. Read previously published columns at www.bipps.org.

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