During the 2022 General Assembly, several bills that were on the Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children policy priority agenda made it to the Governor’s desk, as well as a number of innovative bills that prioritize support for children and families. For example, Senator Whitney Westerfield’s SB 90 establishes a pilot program to create behavioral health treatment alternatives to incarceration and will allow criminal charges to be dismissed upon successful completion of the program.
As we celebrate the positive strides, it’s equally important to highlight justice-related bills that legislators in the House and Senate sponsored that were not as successful. Despite not being heard in committee, filing the bills inspired conversations about how to improve the juvenile and criminal justice systems and the outcomes for young people and adults who are involved with them. It also builds in early commitments from legislators around engaging stakeholders and advocates, strengthening bill language, and strategizing early in the interim.
- SB 296, sponsored by Senator Julie Raque Adams, would have expanded Judicial discretion around community-based alternatives to incarceration for adults who commit nonviolent offenses and are the primary caregiver to a dependent child. Judges could mandate the defendant’s participation in a variety of programs or services – like, financial literacy, enrollment in a trade school, or counseling for mental or behavioral health challenges – as a way of promoting accountability, rehabilitation, and parent-child unity and support.
- HB 571, sponsored by Representatives Nemes and Moser, would have required Court Designated Workers to refer any child aged 12 and younger to the FAIR team for services, in most cases, instead of referring them to court.
- HB 615, sponsored by Representative Heavrin, would have prohibited the use of solitary confinement for adults and juveniles, with limited exceptions, and required data be collected and reported on its use.
At a time when knee-jerk responses to the specious ‘rise in violent crime’ narrative are seen as being tough on crime, it’s reassuring to know that these legislators will consider the research and data and understand that we can both prioritize public safety and implement evidence-based solutions that are effective and good for kids and families.
If you have been personally impacted by the justice system and are interested in supporting advocacy efforts around these issues, please reach out to Kentucky Youth Advocates. You can also share personal anecdotes with your state legislators to help them understand the importance and impact of their support on these bills.