Juvenile Code Signature PicAt the beginning of 2013, much of the talk in Frankfort was about the new bipartisan tone in the General Assembly and how long it would last. It appears to be sticking around, and it’s good for Kentucky kids. Beyond a bipartisan tone, the co-chairs of the Juvenile Code Task Force have exemplified effective, bipartisan leadership for children. Last week, Senator Whitney Westerfield and Representative John Tilley, co-chairs of the Task Force announced that they have secured the support of the Pew Charitable Trusts to identify ways to improve Kentucky’s youth justice system.

The announcement is significant on a number of levels. First, it shows the investment of the co-chairs in the issue. The co-chairs have committed to an accelerated timeline to be able to prepare recommendations in advance of the 2014 legislative session. Over the next couple of months, Pew Charitable Trusts will be working with the Task Force to analyze data, develop policy options, and build consensus for reforms.

Second, it’s prioritizing objective analysis. The stories from children and families, as well as the numbers suggest we aren’t being effective as a state in how we address youth justice. Bringing in Pew to work through the process creates a structure for collectively moving beyond stakeholder perspectives to analyzing what’s working and what’s not. How can we improve the full system of youth justice? What will bring about the best outcomes for children, for their families, and for public safety? How can we use our limited dollars more wisely?

The leadership of Representative Tilley and Senator Westerfield has gotten us this far down the path of improving justice. The upcoming months hold great promise for making Kentucky’s youth justice system better for the children involved and the Commonwealth as a whole.

Photo credit: @kywhitney