icon_justiceThis post originally appeared as an op-ed in the Interior Journal.

By Nathan Goens

In an effort to raise awareness about issues that face our communities, I wanted to take a moment to introduce Senate Bill 200, which goes into full effect July 1, 2015. Parts of the Bill have already gone into effect around the Commonwealth. The aim of the Bill is to create a more effective and economically efficient Juvenile Justice System; one that truly places the best interest of the child as a paramount consideration, while continuing to hold the juvenile accountable for his or her actions, achieve better outcomes for youth and their families, and maintain public safety.

To achieve better outcomes for children introduced to Kentucky’s Juvenile Justice System, Kentucky’s Legislature is expanding the child’s ability to access timely, quality treatment and supervision in the community, focusing the most intensive resources on serious offenders, implementing a set of graduated sanctions for youthful probation violators, and enhancing data collection and oversight mechanisms to ensure policies are working. Instead of housing a child that has been truant from school in a secure juvenile detention facility, at the cost of nearly $100,000 per bed per year to the taxpayer, this legislation makes diversion mandatory for all low-level offenses. Diversion is an instrument used to divert the child from the courts, as long as the child agrees to a set of terms or conditions. If the child violates the terms of the diversion agreement, he or she may face a court date. Diversion will be mandatory for all status offenses, which are offenses defined solely by the condition of being a child, like truancy or runaway. Additionally, diversion will be mandatory for misdemeanors, so long as the child is not a repeat offender, does not use a deadly weapon in the commission of the crime, does not commit a sexual offense, and has no prior diversions.

A vital part of SB 200 is the creation of Family, Accountability, Intervention and Response (FAIR) teams. These teams will work in concert with other governmental agencies to create an enhanced case management system, which will allow the child to have access to the more effective and economically efficient community treatments that exist to address the child’s unique needs. By reducing the costs of incarcerating those children that pose no real threat to society, more funds can be channeled to these effective community-based treatments. Although the goal of the Bill is to keep low-risk children out of the courts, court is still an option for those children that do not have success in the diversion programs.

The Legislation’s effectiveness is advanced by the use of evidence-based screening and assessment tools to help guide treatment, supervision, and placement decisions for juveniles, both in the community and in out-of-home placement. This means that unless a method of addressing children in the juvenile justice system is showing favorable results for our children or state, that method will be phased out by the terms of the law. The continued implementation and improvement of the Bill will be monitored by the Juvenile Justice Oversight Council, which will make recommendations for changes or improvements based on data.

Instead of locking up these lower-risk truants and runaways in the same juvenile jails, typically for the same number of days, as those juveniles charged with more serious crimes like murder, the Bill applies a more commonsensical and compassionate approach to juvenile justice. With the objective of lowering the cost and inefficiency that has plagued our Juvenile Justice System, while continuing to improve the situation of our children and families in the Commonwealth, this is a piece of legislation that all Kentuckians should be able to get behind. It protects our families, our communities, and most importantly, our KIDS.

Nathan Goens is a Lincoln County High School graduate, a third-year law student at the University of Kentucky College of Law, and a law clerk for the Children’s Law Center, a nonprofit located in Lexington, Kentucky.