A group of lawmakers and youth stakeholders has made recommendations for how to improve Kentucky’s juvenile justice system to address low-level youth offenders who cost tax payers millions of dollars while receiving preventative services too late.
A 2012 report shows that one out of every six incarcerated minors is put away for low-level offenses. And the new findings show that misdemeanants and violators make up a majority of youth in out of home placements.
The Task Force on the Unified Juvenile Code has worked since 2012 on recommendation to improve outcomes in the juvenile justice system. It's a conversation that's also been happening elsewhere in the state.
The 18 recommendations presented this week include lessening the punishments for lower youth offenses and others that will need legislative approval.
Getting lawmakers to understand the need for more preventative action won’t be the problem, says Justice Mary Noble who served on the task force. There has been a growing voice against detaining status offenders for crimes like truancy, she says.
"The problem will be the financial costs associated with some of the recommendations," said Noble.
“However, one of the tasks that the task force took on was to see what you could do to reduce the fiscal impact. What can we do with existing resources? How can we re-purpose some of the things that we’re now doing?” she says.
Some of the recommendations that require new laws should be easy to get approved when lawmakers realize they have potential cost savings and better serve youth at the same time, Noble says.
The average cost to detain a child in secure and non-secure residential facilities in Kentucky is $87,000 per year, the report shows. The majority of the Department of Juvenile Justices’ $102 million annual budget is spent on these facilities.
For Department of Juvenile Justice Commissioner Hasan Davis the big emphasis is getting to low level status offenders early.
One of the recommendations is to consider more appropriate punishments for individual low-level offenses.
“I think in the next six months there will be some critical changes in the way we work as agencies in relationship to each other and families and then as we start to get legislation on the ground you’ll start to see really big changes,” Davis says.