House passes juvenile justice reform bill 84-15

03/27/2014 04:45 PM

A comprehensive set of reforms detailing how Kentucky will handle doling out justice to minors who have broken the law is one step closer to being enacted after the House passed the legislation with a 84-15 vote Thursday.

A task force including House Judiciary Chair Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, and Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, as well as school officials, judges, prosecutors and service providers hashed out changes to the system over two interim sessions.

Those discussions continued into the session as several forms of the bill were drafted. In the end nearly 30 agencies signed on to support the legislation .

One of the key recommendations of the bill addresses how the system handles status offenders, who are minors that got into the justice system for problems such as truancy—that aren’t crimes for anyone but those who are under 18.

Tilley told members of the House on Thursday that 80 percent of Kentucky’s juvenile justice population are in the system for truancy. There is also a significant cost to the state to lock up juvenile offenders — nearly $100,000 per-year is spent by the state per child in the system.

Included in the reforms is the creation of a new pre-court family accountability intervention response team which expands the role of court designated workers and will attempt to get to the root of the problem and figure out why kids are truant or running away from home by bringing in parents.

The bill will not ban the ability of judges to sentence status offenders to detention center as some initially wanted. Under the bill, kids who commit status offenses can still end up in court or detained, but the FAIR board is a first step to treat the problem before seeing a judge.

For Rep. Diane St. Onge, R-Lakeside Park, who rails against government overreach and over regulation, her “yes” vote on the bill came down to a hope in reforming the system and the plan the group presented.

But even with hours of testimony and countless conversations, Tilley and Westerfield couldn’t win over everyone on the need for the changes to the system.

Rep. Kevin Bratcher, R-Louisville, said the bill waters down the justice system and pointed to acts violence that recently took place in Louisville.

Terry Brooks, executive director of the Kentucky Youth Advocates, praised the passage of the bill. He said it “makes important strides by creating a system to connect youth to services early in the process that can help families address the reasons for child behavior.”

The legislation will now head back to the Senate for concurrence where sponsors expect the Senate will agree to changes made in the House.


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