Statement updated at 3:50PM on February 28, 2023 upon passage of House Bill 3 by the Kentucky House.

Mara Powell

Statement from Dr. Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates

LOUISVILLE, KY – As House Bill 3 advances through the legislative process, including today’s passage by the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee and then House of Representatives, we are reminded of the critical tipping point in which the Commonwealth stands when it comes to the juvenile justice system. Yes, there must be discussion on the very real state budget implications that sustained improvements to the juvenile justice system will require. And yes, there must be continued discussion on the very real implications of these changes for both improving public safety and developing a better system to get young people back on the right track after making a mistake.

As we’ve shared before, we applaud significant changes by Representatives Bratcher and Nemes in this legislation to remove the requirement to extend a child’s probationary period indefinitely and to remove the section requiring a child’s truancy case be referred to court. We especially appreciate Representative Moser championing the committee substitute today to ensure that when youth enter the Department of Juvenile Justice, they are provided access to behavioral health screening and services, such as substance use disorder treatment, and to restorative justice practices – and the scope of evidence-based treatment available should continue to be expanded through bill negotiations. The committee substitute adopted by the committee today also includes funds to renovate and operate a youth detention center in Jefferson County, as well as funds for transporting youth and staffing detention centers.

We realize that the General Assembly is working hard to reform the operations of the detention center system. And while safety concerns for the community, the staff, and the young people is critical, the detention reforms must also include a focus on connectivity to families and the community, education and career programming, and an articulated re-entry process. We believe that our lawmakers understand the sweeping changes called for and hope to see a new vision on this facet of the juvenile justice system in the immediate.

While the changes to date are important, carry substance, and are to be applauded, we would challenge the legislature to make this bill even better as it works to protect public safety and to get kids back on track! For instance, we believe that judicial discretion must be upheld when it comes to detaining youth, rather than making it a legislative mandate, especially as we know that detention is expensive and actually increases the likelihood of recidivism. While we’re glad to see a lowered timeframe from five to three years for sealing youth records, we still urge the General Assembly to remove or significantly narrow to the most severe offenses when it comes to the unsealing of court records – which can impact a youth’s ability to gain employment or attend higher education in the future. Additionally, we ask that youth with significant developmental or intellectual disabilities have alternatives to detention and transportation by DJJ that account for their specialized needs as this bill advances into the Senate.

The juvenile justice system is, at best, a complex maze along a continuum of interventions. Its impacts on the young people who intersect with it are profound and long-lasting. While it is vital to address the issue of detention, it is perhaps even more vital to make a commitment to tackle the system in a broad and full-on manner as we look ahead to the 2024 session.  That means paying as much attention to prevention, community-based supports, and proven interdictions as we do on detention. If and when we muster the courage to tackle that entire spectrum, then we can truly talk about fundamental juvenile justice reform.

We appreciate our lawmakers engaging in honorable discussions to improve the Department of Juvenile Justice and the outcomes of youth. As these legislative days move by so rapidly, that discussion must continue as the bill advances for deliberation in the Senate with a clear attention to evidence-based practice.

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