While still allowing status offenders to be detained, juvenile justice reforms clear full Senate 31-7

03/20/2014 09:49 PM

It doesn’t go as far as some of its architects initially wanted, but a series of reforms to Kentucky’s juvenile justice system cleared the Senate Thursday by a 31-7 vote.

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

One of the key recommendations will address how the system handles status offenders, who are minors that got into the justice system for problems such as truancy or running away from home — that aren’t crimes for anyone but those who are under 18.

In some counties, juveniles end land in court and can be sentenced to juvenile detention centers, which advocates say only put them on the wrong path.

The bill doesn’t 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 Westerfield said the bill is intended to point the kids towards treatment first.

“If a status offense kid has come up we shouldn’t ignore the status offense, but more importantly we shouldn’t ignore what that status offense is a symptom of — it’s usually a breakdown of the family,” Westerfield said.

Even those senators who disagreed with the measure applauded Westerfield’s tenacity and thoughtfulness to work with them to craft something that had input from everyone.

Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, is a former jailer who ran a juvenile justice center in Boone County. He voted against the bill because he felt that it weakened local prosecutors while strengthening the hands of public advoates.

The measure now heads to the House where Tilley is expected to take up the bill in his committee.


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