By Clarissa Mobley, a Master’s student at the Kent School of Social Work and a KYA intern

Success! That is what Kentucky families and children are achieving with juvenile justice reforms. Simultaneously, the state is seeing a reduction in the number of juvenile offenses. Secretary John Tilley of the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet and Commissioner Carey D. Cockerell of the Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) recently presented on the success of reforms in Kentucky’s juvenile justice system (SB 200) to the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary.

Juvenile justice reforms are working for youth and their families and are improving our communities. These new reforms are geared towards rehabilitation and helping kids grow up to become productive members of society. As a result, less children are being admitted to detention centers, there are less kids in the system, and, those who are in the system, are being helped in positive ways. In addition to helping our children, reforms are saving money. Fewer admissions equates to facility closures, which translates to the state saving money and being able to reinvest that money into youth, their families, and ensuring public safety for all communities.

The goals of these reforms are to help rehabilitate youth rather than continue to send them into the maze of the juvenile justice system. The shift to using community-based responses has caused a significant reduction in the number of youth in detention facilities. From fall 2013 to May 2017, there was a 60% reduction in total population of these facilities. Low-level offenders have been removed from out-of-home placements and the number of admissions to detention centers has been reduced by 2,070 youth. These improvements are happening while juvenile complaints are down, meaning that fewer youth are committing offenses.

The reforms also incorporate the use of evidence-based programming to ensure effective interventions and making sure youth are connected to the right resources to help them grow into productive community members. Good programming ensures kids get on track and don’t commit other offenses. An example of an evidence based program being piloted is Aggression Replacement Training, an intensive community based program effective in working with youth with the most challenges that teaches social skills, anger control, and reflective listening. DJJ is also implementing a promising practice called Seven Challenges, a tool that has been shown to decrease substance use, meets youth where they are at, and works well with youth who have experienced trauma.

Not only are our youth benefiting from a juvenile justice system that prioritizes getting kids back on track, the state is also saving money. Money saved from the reduction in population of detention centers, facility closure, etc., is being reinvested into the fiscal incentive fund, a day treatment program, and the Youth Advocate Program. Within the past year, DJJ has closed four youth detention and residential facilities, re-purposing one of those facilities (Audubon Youth Development Center) as an intensive day treatment center helping to rehabilitate youth, including vocational programs to help prepare them for entering the workforce. In addition, with the savings DJJ has realized, $1 million will be available to communities to apply for funding to implement evidence-based programming to meet the needs of their local communities.

With the increase in youth-focused programming and community-based interventions,  youth and families can stay more connected and continue to grow. The positive outcomes from SB 200 and the dedicated work of DJJ, Administrative Office of the Courts, and other state agencies to implement reforms are creating safer communities, as well as benefiting youth, their families, and the Kentucky economy.