• Description

In recent decades, Kentucky's carceral system has exploded in size, fueled by policies that criminalize poverty and substance use while prioritizing punishment over public safety. Amid significant economic restructuring due to the decline of manufacturing and coal extraction industries, local governments have attempted to turn their criminal legal systems into revenue generators. Entrenched financial incentives have served as powerful motivators for jailers, prosecutors, judges, and county commissioners to preserve the status quo of mass criminalization. During a time in which communities increasingly struggled with substance use disorders and needed real solutions to tackle this public health crisis, Kentucky's lawmakers continued to pass laws that allowed prosecutors and judges to impose harsh penalties for drug-related offenses. Through interviews, archival research, and data analysis, this report shows the consequences of this system on people's daily lives, in a state where criminalization has become the de facto response to poverty and substance use.