FRANKFORT, Ky. (FOX 56) – Kentucky’s troubled juvenile justice facilities have put a call on lawmakers to act. Democrats and Republicans have put out different approaches to curb troubled youth away from crime.
Before the 2023 session started, lawmakers formed a work group to investigate the problems in the state’s juvenile justice centers.
The two Democrats in that group said their proposals are more prevention-focused. Meanwhile, the GOP-backed bill that passed the committee Wednesday would bring a facility to Louisville as well as tougher penalties for violent youth and their parents.
“I was held in a cell for several hours after my court hearing alone in the room was freezing. I did not get to say goodbye to my mother, and no one spoke to me until I was shackled and delivered to the detention facility,” Brittany Harris told lawmakers.
The trauma Harris experienced inside Kentucky’s juvenile detention centers is, today, only amplified
“We’ve had 3 riots in the last 4 months, 2 rapes, one a gang rape, do I send my kid there,” Rep. Jason Nemes (R-Louisville) said.
Representative Kevin Bratcher’s (R-Louisville) bill, House Bill 3, would speed ahead the process of detaining violent youth ahead of a court hearing, bring more court accountability to parents, and temporarily open what are currently sealed records for youth convicted of violent crimes.
“This bill focuses on the children who have found themselves most involved in street life and most involved in serious offending and serves as an intervention point to hopefully get them back on a positive life course,” Josh Crawford, Director Of Criminal Justice Initiatives at the Kentucky Center for Opportunity told lawmakers.
On the opposite side of the aisle, Democrat representatives Keturah Herron and Lisa Willner are pushing for an approach to give incarcerated youth a bill of rights. Their proposals also include regional and state citizen review boards and created a dedicated Department of Juvenile Justice fund.
“We’ve heard about kids being held in their cells nearly 24 hours a day. Reports of kids who’ve had meals withheld,” Rep. Willner said.
They said their approach focuses on prevention, intervention, and alternatives to detention. But opponents to HB 3 also shared concerns the bill could have unintended consequences
“This is bringing into the arena jail time for the parents, which I would say is never going to help a child if their parents are in jail,” Scott West, deputy public advocate for the Department of Public Advocacy, said.
Under the bill, parents could go before a judge for not cooperating if their child is in a diversion program. Questions were also raised over the scope of opening youth records.
“I will tell you my fears of what this does. Currently, juvenile statute allows for education, police officers, courts to already have access to said records. And so, opening this up, I feel like it could be more harmful,” Rep. Herron said.
Another major piece of this bill is a $9 million renovation for a Louisville juvenile detention center with the hope of bringing incarcerated youth from that area closer to home.
An amendment is also being filed by Rep. Kim Moser for youth to receive mental health treatment while incarcerated.