Westerfield sends letter asking for state agencies to collect data on disproportionate minority contact

04/19/2017 12:54 PM

The defeat of legislation aimed at reducing disproportionate minority contact in the juvenile system, and setting a base for the age at which children would be allowed to be put in secure detention facilities was “easily the biggest disappointment and frustration,” for Senate Judiciary Chair Whitney Westerfield during the legislative session.

“This is a problem that exists. Senate Bill 20 is aimed at addressing disproportionate minority contact,” Westerfield said in an interview with Spectrum News on Tuesday. “It is a big issue in Louisville. It is a big issue in Christian County. It’s a big issue in a lot of places across Kentucky where Black children are encountering more harshly and more often the juvenile justice system.”

The Hopkinsville Republican is not giving up on the effort, instead asking state agencies to voluntarily comply with parts of the legislation.

Westerfield said in the coming days his office will send a letter to the Department of Juvenile Justice, Administrative Office of the Courts, Department for Behavioral Health, Department for Community Based Services and the Department of Education asking the agencies to begin collecting data and correcting instances of disproportionate minority contact.

“I can’t get the bill passed, and that’s on me. That’s a legislative fail,” he said. “But I’m not going to give up. You all can do this without me compelling you to do it. I’m going to ask and hope.”

Westerfield co-chairs the Juvenile Justice Oversight Council, every one of the agencies he’s contacting, he says is aware of the disparity in the data — now he’s giving them the opportunity to collect more data and fix the inequity without a Frankfort mandate to do so.

The Senate Judiciary Chair says the collection of the data and correction of the issue should not come at an additional cost to agencies, but even if it does he rhetorically asked, “Isn’t it worth it?”

“I mean, isn’t it worth an additional cost, if there is one, to make sure we’re not treating kids this unfairly — this unjustly. That’s preposterous,” he said.

Westerfield said he doesn’t care where the data ends up at the end of the day; whether it’s the Juvenile Justice Oversight Council, the Juvenile Justice Advisory Board or even the interim committee of the Judiciary — “so long as we get it.”

Tara Grieshop-Goodwin, the chief policy officer with Kentucky Youth Advocates, has spent a lot of time and effort in recent years seeking to address the issue of disproportionate minority contact within the juvenile system in Kentucky. She hopes the collection of data will play a role in achieving better outcomes.

“The many agencies involved in Kentucky’s youth justice system all play a role in building safer communities,” Grieshop-Goodwin said. “With better information on how well their agency reaches that goal for different groups of youth, agency leaders can improve the chances of helping every kid get back on track to becoming a successful adult.

“Asking agencies to step up and begin gathering and reporting data will give them a jump start on making sure the system works effectively with different groups of youth,” she continued. “When we do what works best for all youth involved in the youth justice system, our communities will be safer.”

When it comes to passing the bill in a legislative session, Westerfield said the heavy lift will be in convincing fellow lawmakers to address the issue.

“It’s going to take more informing of my colleagues in the House and Senate the value of that bill,” Westerfield said. “I think, no, I don’t think, I know, I’m up against a lack of appetite for some criminal justice reform.”


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