Statement by Dr. Terry Brooks, executive director, Kentucky Youth Advocates
LOUISVILLE, KY – The Kentucky House has built a solid legacy of supporting kids. Whether it is around child welfare reform, K-12 accountability, budget investments, or trauma-informed care, the House is always there for our children. That is why its passage of House Bill 318 is so confusing and so disappointing.
Kentucky Youth Advocates fully supports the need to ensure public safety and to hold youth accountable for violent felony offenses. However, HB 318 rolls back the important progress made from the historic bi-cameral, bipartisan efforts of Senate Bill 200 of 2014. It will be immediately bad for kids today and actually put them on the wrong track for the future. And it fundamentally dilutes community safety for us all.
Here are the realities of how HB 318 will not improve current juvenile justice practices, make our communities safer, or increase kids’ access to supportive services:
- HB 318 will roll back successful reforms by requiring kids who are habitually truant – meaning they have six or more unexcused absences or tardiness – to appear in court if they fail to improve within 30 days. The fact is, nearly 9 out of 10 status offense cases have been diverted and more than 90% of those diversion agreements have been completed successfully. The Court Designated Workers Office is proven to be best equipped to address the underlying causes of these issues.
- HB 318 could lead to more repeat offenders by involving kids in the court system for minor offenses. An average of only one in five successfully diverted youth had a subsequent complaint within one year, compared to more than one in three youth who were referred to court.
- No child should be held criminally responsible for the intentional inaction of a parent. However, as HB 318 is currently written, parents who have barriers to helping their kids successfully complete their diversion agreements – like not being able to take time off from work or not having reliable transportation – can be held in contempt for a lack of parental cooperation.
- HB 318 will not put kids on the track to success by unsealing their juvenile records. Instead, a single impulsive act in childhood can all but guarantee thwarted college admissions, employment opportunities, safe and stable housing, and even military service. Additionally, as HB 318 is currently written, this provision could apply to youth who confess their involvement to law enforcement and not just youth who are found guilty and formally sentenced in court.
With passage of HB 318 by the House, our lawmakers are letting down Kentucky’s kids for sure. Moreover, this measure and their action does not live up to their own standards when it comes to making Kentucky the best place in America to be young. Considering the impacts HB 318 will have on young people as well as on public safety, we hope that the Kentucky Senate stops this bill from advancing any further.
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.