Sen. Westerfield plans push for additional juvenile justice reform, synthetic drug legislation

02/04/2016 06:35 PM

FRANKFORT — After passing a sweeping series of reforms to the state’s juvenile justice system in 2014, Senate Judiciary Chair Whitney Westerfield tells Pure Politics he will be back with additional legislation this session.

In an interview on Thursday, Westerfield said he will focus in on the problem of disproportionate minority contact within the juvenile justice system. The Hopkinsville Republican is planning on confronting this issue by establishing an audit of sorts on the system.

Over three years, Westerfield wants data reports from the Department of Juvenile Justice, Administrative Office of the Courts and the Department for Community Based Services on race and gender to help identify what’s happening and put a stop to the disproportionality.

“We are, in Kentucky and everywhere else in the United States, you can find it everywhere, we have DMC (disproportionate minority contact) we are doing more, and putting more minority children through the juvenile justice system then we are white kids,” Westerfield said. “We’ve got to find where those places are happening. Where it’s cropping up, and stop it.”

Across the system, Westerfield said there is an inherit bias which is leading to more minority youth entering the juvenile justice system.

According to data from 2013 compiled by Kentucky Youth Advocates, black youth under the age of 18 in Kentucky are more than 2.5 times as likely as white and Hispanic youth to be charged with a public offense.

While there is data, KYA said that different agencies in Kentucky collect data in different ways, and Westerfield’s legislation is needed to determine the extent of DMC.

Kentucky Youth Advocates also looked at how youths under incarceration were treated, and found that black youth are more than four times as likely as white and Hispanic youth to spend time in a secure juvenile detention facility.

Within the yet-to-be-filed bill, Westerfield said that agencies involved would have a three-year plan to identify the problem, correct it and report back on how the problem was addressed.

Synthetic drugs

Westerfield will also file legislation to combat synthetic drugs in the commonwealth. The Senate version of the legislation will be similar to the House bill passed out of committee on the other side of the Capitol on Wednesday.

“The importance is that we increase the penalties on the trafficking of these synthetic drugs,” he said. “It’s a little too soft to touch right now in the criminal code.”

Work is still ongoing on Westerfield’s bill in the Senate as he will add a rescheduling of the drug hydrocodone, a narcotic opioid intended to treat pain. There could also be the addition of other newly discovered drugs within Westerfield’s bill.

In the last 48 hours, Westerfield said he has learned there are other drugs popping up in other states and in Canada which are incredibly potent and could pose a health and safety risk.

One of the drugs is known as W-18, which according to recent reports it is 100 times more potent than Fentanyl, a narcotic opioid. For further perspective, W-18 is perhaps 10,000 times more toxic than morphine.

As Kentucky continues to play whack-a-mole with synthetics, Westerfield said his legislation could include W-18, as well as others that are continuing to come forward. As with other synthetics, many of the drugs are being shipped from overseas.

Westerfield said he was waiting to hear back from the Kentucky State Police on their capacity to test for the drug. He’s expected to meet with KSP on Monday.


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