Kentucky’s Kids Can’t Wait Another Year for Justice: Current Practice Harmful for Youth and Public Safety

When we talk about kids being locked up for status offenses like truancy or running away, this is what it looks like (click to see video):

Does seeing those kids in handcuffs because they missed school have the same effect on you as it does me?  Frankly, it scares me.  It scares me for the kids in the visual to be sure.  But it scares me for the very nature of what it means to be a Kentuckian.

Want scary?  How about that only one state in the country locks up more kids for misbehaving than Kentucky?  How about that 2 in 5 youth locked up for status offenses today in Kentucky are there because they skipped school?  How about that 60% of status offenders who are sitting in a jail today are in Washington, Texas or the Bluegrass State?  How about that youth in Kentucky locked up for status offenses are housed with youth who have committed serious crimes like murder and sex offenses?

The real question is pretty simple – ARE KENTUCKY’S LEADERS SATISFIED PAYING FOR FAILURE OR ARE THEY READY TO INVEST IN SUCCESS?

We know that the current practice of locking up status offenders is the MOST expensive and the LEAST effective way to address the situation.  We know that the current practice is not good for general public safety.  We know that Kentucky counties spent about $1,000,000 for this ineffective practice in 2010.  We know that diversion programs cost less and work better than incarceration.

There are hopeful signs to be found in the proposal to establish a taskforce on juvenile justice that can address the larger issues of how we shift resources to provide community-based alternatives for status offenders.  That group just could be the ideal forum to decide once and for all whether incarceration is ever appropriate for a status offender or whether we as a state simply need to move toward community-based alternatives.  That group can be the catalyst in answering the question, “Can Kentucky shift away from costly and ineffective detention and invest in proven ways to hold youth accountable and improve public safety?”

But … do we have to wait for the task force to convene and to deliberate and to conclude before any action is taken?  The declarative answer is, “No!”  We can begin to limit how many youngsters are locked up for misbehaviors that are not crimes for an adult and we can begin that right away.

If the General Assembly takes action this session with limits on incarceration for status offenses, they can help keep hundreds of youth who haven’t committed a crime by adult standards from experiencing the negative impacts of detention. If we don’t act, the research shows we will spend another year putting these youth and public safety at risk

How can you make a difference today?

Tell your legislators that you support legislation this session to limit how and when youth can be locked up for things that aren’t crimes for adults. While we had hoped broader changes in HB 61 would pass, other options exist for action this session.

  • Tell members of the House Judiciary committee: Please support HB 476. HB 476 offers a starting point for limiting the harmful practice of incarcerating youth for status offenses until a taskforce can be formed and study the issue.
  • Tell members of the Senate Judiciary committee: Please support HB 476 and HCR 129. HB 476 offers a starting point for limiting the harmful practice of incarcerating youth for status offenses until a taskforce can be formed and study the issue. HCR 129 is needed to create a taskforce that can study whether to continue allowing incarceration for status offenses and how to provide effective services to address the problem behavior.

 

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