SUFK 2012 4 (1)After months of thorough analysis and testimony about the youth justice system in Kentucky, the Juvenile Code Task Force started getting down to the business of identifying possible recommendations this week. The members discussed a number of options to make Kentucky’s system work better for kids and for public safety.

One of the major strategies was keeping youth from getting involved with the formal court system in the first place if possible. Task Force members talked about the “iatrogenic” effect of court involvement – that simply means getting involved with the formal court system at all has a negative impact on youth. Ideas ranged from standardizing protocols with schools before seeking court involvement, clarifying the role of School Resource Officers, and enhancing diversion options, which would connect youth with programs that aim to address the underlying issues affecting children. It was encouraging to hear the school superintendent on the Task Force say these options seemed doable.

To the issue of diversion, Pew shared an analysis that overrides of diversion by county attorneys and judges account for 40 percent of kids coming in to the formal court system. These youth would have been eligible for diversion, and that option would have been the best practice to follow. The Task Force co-chairs have set a tone of thoughtful analysis and looking at what we know works. We hope the Task Force holds to that standard and thinks seriously about how to give kids a shot at diversion, especially with because diversion has an 85 percent success rate.

Broader issues of how the system functions were also raised, and Justice Mary Noble put forth an idea for enhancing services at the front end to address the core problems impacting youth and keep them out of the court system. Henderson County has a similar model underway that involves Department of Juvenile Justice staff working with youth without needing to even start the court process.

The Task Force also discussed how to curb the high number of kids placed in secure detention or in another out-of-home placement for minor offenses. The data had shown that regardless of the type of offense – felony, misdemeanor, or violation – there was only a one month difference in average length of stay.

After the many meetings of data analysis, research on effective practices, and examples from other states, it seems from the thoughtful discussion this week that the hard work over the past months are paying off. Now it’s time to turn our attention to seeing these recommendations solidified and put into policy. Kentucky kids deserve a chance to learn from mistakes and to get on a track for success.