Marcus Ray

Marcus Ray of Elizabethtown speaks Friday during a celebration of two new laws which seek to improve post-incaceration outcomes. Ray represented the Kentucky NAACP and serves as its president.

NAACP Kentucky State Conference President Marcus Ray of Elizabethtown joined Gov. Andy Beshear, Rep. Kim Moser, Sen. Julie Raque Adams and others from the Kentucky Smart on Crime Coalition for a virtual bill signing ceremony of House Bill 497 and Senate Bill 84.

“Today is a great day as we celebrate two new bills that recently passed the General Assembly,” Beshear said at Friday’s ceremony. “These measures are important reforms that improve post incarceration outcomes. As with many criminal justice issues, these measures say as much, if not more, about who we are as people as they do about the people whose care they govern.”

House Bill 497, sponsored by Moser, removes barriers to reentry for those exiting the corrections system.

“People who are incarcerated and serve their time deserve a fair shot at re-entry into society and it is our job to make sure they have the tools they need to succeed,” Beshear said, noting Kentucky’s recidivism rate is 40 percent. “That’s far too high. House Bill 497 works to fix the system.”

The bill provides formerly incarcerated Kentuckians with necessary documentation, photo ID, health insurance through Medicaid and resume assistance to move forward with their life. The bill also creates incentive programs for companies to become “fair chance” employers.

“We, as a state, must come together to a common understanding of what it means when we say a person has paid their debt to society. Once that is clarified, we must set out to reintegrate them back into society with a clean slate,” Ray said. “Rep. Moser, through House Bill 497, recognized the disadvantages former inmates face upon reintegration and has provided the first step in delivering that clean slate. The importance of reintegration into the community, ready to seek employment, without the hurdle of establishing your identity, cannot be stressed enough. The importance of reintegration into the community with a support system already in place takes a heavy burden off the former inmate.”

Senate Bill 84, sponsored by Adams, is legislation aimed at providing those who are pregnant and incarcerated the necessary resources for a safe and healthy pregnancy.

“These new laws are going to strengthen our criminal justice system, but also our commitment to all of our people, because those that are currently incarcerated are still our people,” Beshear said.

Participants of Friday’s virtual event also emphasized that April is Second Chance Month.

Mary Alford can be reached at 270-505-1417 or malford@thenewsenterprise.com.

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