Kelley Paul Points To Criminal Justice Reform As The Way ‘Hyper-Partisan’ Washington Can Learn To Work Together


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Evie Fordham Politics and Health Care Reporter
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  • Kelley Paul, wife of Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, says she wants Washington to learn to work together through criminal justice reform.
  • Her state passed the “dignity” act that improves conditions for incarcerated women in April.
  • U.S. prisons hold almost 2.3 million people, according to 2018 statistics.

Kelley Paul, wife of Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, says she wants both parties to get behind criminal justice reform “in this hyper-partisan world.”

“I think we both have to acknowledge that Republicans and Democrats got us into this situation where we are the most heavily incarcerated country in the world,” Paul said in an interview with The Daily Caller News Foundation. “We’re all becoming much more aware of some of the root causes of addiction and substance abuse … and we see that incarcerating people for this is not the solution.”

Paul said she sees criminal justice reform as a common ground that can help the parties mend their ability to cooperate. Paul pointed to statistics, like the 700-percent increase in the number of women behind bars since 1980.

“Everyone’s jaw drops, right?” she said.

Kentucky and the ‘Dignity’ Law

Kentucky passed its “dignity” law in April, which comprehensively “bans the shackling of pregnant women, expands treatment for those struggling with addiction and improves health and hygiene services for all incarcerated women,” according to Justice Action Network.

“Many of these women are very low-level nonviolent offenders — but because of the way the laws were, they were still required to shackle them even if they were only being incarcerated for substance abuse or possession,” Paul told TheDCNF. “The dignity bill is something that will correct that.”

If other states enact dignity laws, it could become more common for women, including mothers, to enter addiction recovery programs rather than be incarcerated, Paul said.

“What happens to the family?” she asked. “When we incarcerate someone for a low-level drug crime, they’re separated from their children, so who is taking care of those children? All this becomes a snowballing problem for the state.”

Paul highlighted the Hope Center Women’s Recovery facility in Lexington, Kentucky, in an op-ed for the Lexington Herald Ledger. The center is an alternative option for women accused of minor, non-violent crimes, Paul wrote in the op-ed.

She connected her interest in criminal justice reform to work her husband has done in the Senate.

“Criminal-justice reform is something my husband, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, has been fighting for since he arrived in Washington,” Paul wrote. “He is a lead co-sponsor of bipartisan bail reform legislation with Sen. Kamala Harris, and with the recent introduction of the First Step Act, a major bipartisan prison reform bill that includes expanded treatment opportunities, I am hopeful we can continue our efforts to fix a broken system.”

The First Step Act

The First Step Act’s proponents argue that it will cut the federal prison population by making it easier for prisoners who participate in vocational and rehabilitative programs to earn early release to a halfway house or similar program. It passed the House in May, but has not made headway in the Senate. (RELATED: Former ISIS Sex Slave Receives 2018 Nobel Peace Prize)

“They call it First Step for a reason because it’s limited in scope,” Paul told TheDCNF. “I hate the fact that there may be some people in the Democrat Party who wouldn’t vote for it because they say it doesn’t go far enough. One of the things my husband has advocated for is that we need smaller bills.”

Paul traces her interest in criminal justice reform to her experience writing her 2015 book “True and Constant Friends: Love and Inspiration from Our Grandmothers, Mothers, and Friends.” A friend encouraged Paul to use paintings by women who had been incarcerated as the artwork in her book, and as Paul interviewed the women, she said she was moved by their stories.

The story of a young mother who struggled with heroin addiction especially touched Paul, she said. The woman had spent time in jail, nearly died several times and had exhausted the support of her friends and family. But the HomeFront shelter in Princeton, New Jersey, and its ArtSpace therapy program helped the young mom find an artistic talent that motivated her to earn her GED and eventually become a graphic designer.

“You’re not going to have that kind of end to a story by locking someone up with an addiction problem,” Paul told TheDCNF. “What an incredible opportunity we have to give people a path forward.”

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