Judiciary Committee Moves on KY Juvenile Justice Reform

Mar 14, 2014

Credit Jonathunder, Wikimedia Commons

A legislative effort to reform a portion of Kentucky's juvenile justice system is moving in the General Assembly.  The one-hundred-plus page bill won committee approval Thursday in Frankfort.

Proponents say the measure will work to help troubled youth early on and reduce the need for detention.  It seeks to do that through expanded and more directed case management. 

Senate Sponsor and Judiciary Committee Chair Whitney Westerfield says it includes drug-court-like facets.

"We're winning on all fronts," he said. "It's cheaper.  It gets a better result, improves public safety and actually treats the issue that gave rise to the status offense or perhaps public offense.” 

Westerfield says the savings could be as much as $24 million over five years.  That would come through keeping more status offenders out of detention and addressing issues earlier.

A high percentage of status offenders are youth who habitually skip school.  Kentucky Youth Advocates Director Terry Brooks says those individuals don't belong in juvenile detention facilities. 

"Common sense and experience says that in that peer to peer relationship, it's not the status offender who's influencing the more serious offender, instead it goes the other way," said Brooks. 

Kentucky Youth Advocates says just over 7,800 status offense charges were leveled in 2012 and 1,090 detained.  Senator John Schickel, who worked for years in law enforcement, voted "No" on the bill.

"This who concept of status offenders shouldn't be in secure detention, I think is a bunch of bologna, because most of the time, they shouldn't be, but there are times folks when there is no other alternative," said Schickel. 

The legislation also seeks to accumulate more data about repeat offenders, something Senator Westerfield is sorely missing.  The bill heads on to the full Senate.​