Lawmakers weigh multiple juvenile justice bills

Published 2:20 pm Monday, February 20, 2023

BY TOM LATEK

Kentucky Today

Several different bills dealing with fixes to Kentucky’s juvenile justice system are currently before state lawmakers, including one that received approval from the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

House Bill 3 is one of them.  According to its sponsor, Rep. Kevin Bratcher, R-Louisville, children taken into custody for a violent felony offense will be detained a maximum of 48 hours before receiving a detention hearing and an evaluation on mental health and substance use disorders.

“I believe those two things are very important for our most troubled children to try to get their lives turned around,” Bratcher added.

Other provisions include:

• Holding uncooperative parents accountable when it comes to their child’s school attendance or participation in a diversion program.

• Opening court records for five years for children convicted of a violent felony offense.

• Allocating $9 million to the state Department of Juvenile justice for reopening the Jefferson County Youth Detention Center with 40 beds.

That measure cleared the committee on a 15-1 vote with two members passing. It now heads to the House floor.

Another legislative package is being proposed by two Louisville Democratic representatives, Lisa Willner and Keturah Herron, which has a three-pronged approach, two of which are still being drafted.

One would create a Bill of Rights for Incarcerated Children, with the goal of protecting the safety, well-being, and fundamental humanity of youth within the justice system, and to ensure access to legal counsel as well as medical, educational, mental health, and other supportive services. That is HB 266.

Their second proposal would establish a citizen-led oversight group that would take an aggregate review of Kentucky’s juvenile-justice cases to ensure the state took the right steps between each juvenile’s entry and exit from the judicial system.

The third proposal would establish a dedicated fund that would be used to pay for prevention strategies, community-based services, alternatives to detention, and supports for youth who exit the system.

“Much more needs to be done to treat the underlying issues rather than just the symptoms,” Herron said.  “It’s going to take all of us – from the three branches of state government to advocates, those under supervision and their families – to make this work.”

CUTLINE: Rep. Kevin Bratcher, R-Louisville (center), sponsored one of the bills dealing with the Kentucky Juvenile Justice. Kentucky Today photo by Tom Latek