Agencies preparing for sweeping juvenile justice reforms, Westerfield says

09/04/2014 07:12 PM

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, one of the architects behind a series of reforms to the state’s juvenile justice system expects there to be some tweaks to the bill over the next session, and possibly further changes to the system in the coming years.

Westerfield spoke to Pure Politics before the legislatively mandated first meeting of the juvenile justice oversight council on Thursday when he said he would hear
“for the very first time where the agencies are up to this point.”

The legislation brings together the department for community based services,
the administrative offices of the courts, and the department of juvenile justice among others to start setting up the reforms to the system which deals with juvenile offenders.

“They are already talking. They are working very, very hard. These are committed folks that are trying to set their systems up in a way that they can start collecting the data they need to collect so that we know what decisions we need to make going forward,” Westerfield said.

Westerfield anticipated needing to make some tweaks to the legislation in the coming session citing the need to change some “language that lines up Kentucky with some federal requirements.”

It costs the state between $92,000 and $100,000 per bed in juvenile detention centers.

And research showed that the average stay for a teen who committed a minor offense was nearly the same as a more serious offender.

“That’s not right. We don’t do adults that way. Its backwards we had to have made a change, and I’m glad that we did. We’re going to see good results from it,” Westerfield said.

In addition, some judges send young people who are chronically skipping school or running away from home into juvenile detention centers. They are called status offenders. And some lawmakers, like Westerfield and Rep. John Tilley, wanted to stop the practice of locking up status offenders.

Westerfield was among several lawmakers who wanted to keep status offenders out of the courts altogether, but he said that could be a tough sell before the data comes back from the initial changes.

“The one thing that I wish it did – that it does not do is to get the status kids completely out of court. It doesn’t…we hope that going forward that sooner rather than later where that’s not the case,” Westerfield said. “Hopefully it will be because what we’ve done so far is going to be effective and will work.”


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