The Safer Kentucky Act source list is ‘cut and paste’ from a Georgia policy paper

Republished from WEKU.

The source list Republican lawmakers are using to support the Safer Kentucky Act appears to come from a 2023 paper arguing for solutions to crime in Atlanta.

Conservative criminal justice reformer Joey Comley said he discovered the paper used the exact same citations and formatting while researching to speak on the bill ahead of a Tuesday committee hearing.

“It’s dawning on me, I’ve recently read something that had the same source list,” Comley said. “So then I looked and on my desk, I’ve got that printed off. And it’s clearly a cut and paste.”

Kentucky Public Radio obtained a copy of the report whose source list mirrors the citations used to defend the Safer Kentucky Act — a report created by the Georgia Center for Opportunity to suggest crime solutions for Atlanta, not Kentucky.

The first page of the source list from the 2023 Georgia Center for Opportunity paper.

The sponsors for the Safer Kentucky Act released a list of more than 100 academic sources they say support the tough on crime legislation after the legislation passed the state House in late January.

An KPR analysis from February found many of those citations had nothing to do with the question of increased sentences. Others actively argued for alternatives to increased sentences.

Primary sponsor, Republican Rep. Jared Bauman from Louisville Bauman did not immediately respond to a list of detailed questions, including whether he relied on any other research in crafting his legislation.

In February, Bauman said the source list he cited as evidence “provides a detailed and thorough background and it gave us further opportunity to look at crime and its impact through multiple lenses.”

The first page of source list for the Safer Kentucky Act.

Bauman previously said the list “unequivocally” proves increasing sentence enhancements would lead to safer communities in committee testimony.

The tough-on-crime legislation would enhance penalties for more than two dozen crimes. It would outlaw street camping, and add unlawful camping to the state’s stand your ground laws. It would charge people who use drugs for knowingly giving someone fentanyl. It would add new restrictions on charitable bail funds and expand the definition of violent crimes to include attempted offenses.

A KYCIR investigation found the bill could lead to more incarceration, pushing already overcrowded Kentucky jails to the brink. The Kentucky Center for Economic Policy also found the bill would “easily cost more than $1 billion over the next decade.”

Some elements of the bill share striking similarities to model legislation created by the right-leaning think tank the Cicero Institute, primarily a ban on “unlawful camping” which some activists say would further criminalize homelessness.

Democrats who are against the bill say the use of the entire source list with no attribution amounts to plagiarism.

House Bill 5 passed the state House, and now is awaiting its first committee meeting in the Senate, where it is scheduled to be discussed Tuesday afternoon before a Thursday vote.

The author of the Georgia report is Josh Crawford, the former executive director of the Pegasus Institute, a millennial-run conservative think tank in Louisville that now appears to be defunct; its IRS non-profit status has lapsed and its domain name no longer works. Crawford told LPM he did not share his report with Bauman nor was he involved in the bill’s drafting.

Crawford now serves as the criminal policy director for the Georgia Center for Opportunity. Although the center identifies as nonpartisan, it is a member of the State Policy Network, which connects state-level conservative and libertarian think tanks across the country.

Crawford said he didn’t particularly mind that the bill’s sponsors used his source list.

“I don’t have a strong feeling about that one way or the other,” Crawford said.

Crawford’s report advocates for a lot of other things — like more re-entry services and cognitive-behavioral therapy for people while still in prison.

It also recommends addressing urban blight, street lighting and vacant properties as a crime deterrent, none of which are addressed in the bill. Yet, Bauman’s list still includes the multitude of sources that show these measures can be effective in reducing crime, all without having to put more people in jail for longer.

Crawford said he believes at least a few of the measures in HB5 are backed up by his research, like the provision that creates a three strikes law for violent felony offenders and another that allows required participation in a violence prevention program as a condition of parole. He said he intends to testify in favor of those specific provisions in a Tuesday hearing, but that he cannot speak for the entire bill.

“House Bill 5 is an exhaustive piece of legislation,” Crawford said. “I would argue that the provisions that I am speaking to do fit in sort of the approach that that we recommend, yes, but I cannot speak with any level of expertise to the provisions about homelessness or anything like that.”

Comley, the Kentucky director for Right on Crime, said he takes issue with a number of elements in the bill and was skeptical it was truly driven by data. He doesn’t believe prevailing criminal justice data supports policy that almost entirely focuses on increasing incarceration, he said and questioned whether Kentucky is in the midst of a crime wave at all.

“You’re looking at youth offenders, all the way up through adult offenders, repeat offenders — and you got it all packed into one bill. So you would think, wow, they really must have done some comprehensive study to arrive at a far reaching solution like House Bill 5,” Comley said. “But that’s clearly not the case at all.”

Louisville Democratic Rep. Josie Raymond asked for Bauman to read his list of sources on the House floor in late January.

She wanted to make sure that information became public and was skeptical of it from the start, she said.

“When we learned that the source list was plagiarized, it just made me think I’m serving in the Kentucky General Assembly, not on the Atlanta City Council,” Raymond said. “Kentucky has unique challenges. Atlanta has unique challenges. I want policy crafted for our people and our communities that is responsive to our needs.”

Raymond said she believes the bill is not driven by data, but rather by fear, and suspects the sponsors tried to find data to fit the bill rather than crafting a bill to fit the data.

Another Louisville Democrat, Rep. Pam Stevenson, said she hopes to see the bill change as it works its way through the Senate.

“It is really going to depend on what’s happening to the bill on the Senate side,” Stevenson said. “We would hope that they would second guess themselves and go back and relook at it.”

State government and politics reporting is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Originally published by WEKU.

Republished with permission.