Statement by Dr. Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates
The youth justice system is often described as a maze with too many ways to get lost and too few ways to escape once youth are in. Kentucky has made strides in improving its youth justice system in recent years, but there are some practices still in use that we now know do not achieve the best outcomes for kids or communities.
Senate Bill 20, sponsored by Chairman Whitney Westerfield, takes next steps the Commonwealth needs to respond to children appropriately, hold youth accountable, and get them on track to build safer communities. We applaud the Chairman for aligning state laws with recently passed federal legislation, the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act, by asking agencies to step up and begin gathering and reporting data on youth outcomes.
We hope that SB 20 can be a catalyst to additional vital reforms. As an example, one of the imperative next steps on behalf of children is around restraint and seclusion as a practice in schools. Initially, this bill would have helped to track and to investigate the use of these practices against students, with a needed focus on youngsters with special needs. Educators know that kind of accountability is good for kids and good for schools. We hope that attention to this troubling practice will not simply go away but becomes a priority that gets traction and action.
Additionally, we know that Kentucky needs to join Texas, Nebraska, and dozens of other states in thinking through how the youth justice system treats the youngest of children. Frankly, there are better family-focused ways to address mistakes made by a five-year old than arresting them. While that component apparently – and unfortunately – does not have the oxygen to become a reality this year, it needs to become a priority. Ensuring an appropriate response to children under twelve contributes to public safety; is a boost to the state budget; and, most importantly is a support to the best development of kids.
There are many critical opportunities to improve the youth justice system still on the table, and this is a good example of progress being made. We thank Senator Westerfield for championing this legislation and the Senate Judiciary Committee for supporting it. We hope and believe that it can lead to further efforts to stand up for kids and public safety.
The Commonwealth’s continued work to ensure that judicial systems create a path to opportunity for every child and right-size our responses is a common sense, common ground, and common good commitment. That kind of commitment can more effectively hold youth accountable and set them on a path to success.
Stay up-to-date on Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children priorities and other bills that are good for kids on our Kentucky General Assembly Bill Tracker.
About Kentucky Youth Advocates
Kentucky Youth Advocates believes all children deserve to be safe, healthy, and secure. As THE independent voice for Kentucky’s children, we work to ensure policymakers create investments and policies that are good for children. Learn more at www.kyyouth.org.