Office of Justice Programs (OJP)

Kentucky Alternative Sentencing Social Worker Program

BJA Program(s): Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Program
State(s): KY

Grantee Agency: See below

Grant Amount/Year(s): FY 2009/$464,183

About the Program:

The Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy’s (DPA) Alternative Sentencing Social Worker Program provides social worker services to indigent criminal defendants who are represented by Kentucky’s public defenders. DPA began this pilot program to assess defendants' mental health and substance abuse needs and to plan viable community treatment options to relieve the courts' burden and potentially the burden of custody for corrections and jails. The pilot program began in 2006 paring social workers with attorneys to facilitate more efficient use of court time and probation resources, and reduce incarceration costs.

During the JAG award period (10/1/2009 - 6/30/2012), funded social workers were based out of five field offices located throughout Kentucky. The program currently has social workers based out of eight field offices located throughout Kentucky.

Program Successes/Effect on the Community:

Social workers—with public defenders—assess, develop and present individualized alternative sentencing plans to the prosecutor and court as options other than incarceration. When approved, the social worker seeks to have the client placed in treatment and other social services to address their addictions, mental health issues and social problems. DPA utilizes case management approaches like Motivational Interviewing within the attorney/client privilege, which are consistent with the evidence-based practices used in the state's mental health programs. In 2012, Kentucky courts accepted 85% of all the alternative sentencing plans prepared by these social workers.

In 2009, DPA received a federal JAG stimulus grant to hire five alternative sentencing social workers which were placed in the following offices--Columbia, Lexington, London, Madisonville and Pikeville--with caseloads including a mix of juvenile, family, misdemeanor and criminal court cases. Currently DPA has eight social workers in the following offices: Columbia, London, Madisonville, Hopkinsville, Prestonsburg, Covington, Owensboro and Bowling Green.

With the assistance of the JAG ARRA grant, Kentucky has saved millions in incarceration costs and recidivism has decreased. Since its inception, this program has received significant recognition including: the National Criminal Justice Association’s 2011 Outstanding Criminal Justice Program Award for the Southern Region; and only recently, the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, named the program as one of the "Top 25 Innovations in American Government Award" 2013 competition.

Learn More:
To learn more about the program, please contact:
Kita Clement
Program Coordinator
Alternative Sentencing Social Worker Program
Phone: 270–846–2730


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