In a conference room at the capitol filled with legislators, stakeholders, and advocates, I learned how important fixing youth justice is for Kentucky. I am a new intern with Kentucky Youth Advocates, and I recently had the opportunity to attend a Unified Juvenile Code Task Force meeting. I was fortunate to see Pew Charitable Trust’s initial presentation about their research on the state of youth justice in Kentucky. Though I was surprised at the number of challenges within the system, I was relieved to hear the commitment of the task force chairs to identify opportunities to fix the system so we can ensure a better future for young Kentuckians.
The research made one thing clear: Despite recent improvements, Kentucky is still locking up too many kids. Especially concerning is Kentucky’s tendency to jail kids for relatively minor things, despite the fact that detention is not the most effective method of helping kids get back on track. In 2012, most kids placed out of home by the Department of Juvenile Justice had a minor offense prior to the placement. And for out of home placements other than detention, there was less than a month difference in the average time kids were placed, regardless of the seriousness of their crime. Kids that commit minor offenses are being punished as harshly as those that commit more serious offences. Not only is this an injustice for Kentucky children, but removing them from their schools and communities to serve time is a threat to their future.
The task force knows that Kentucky kids deserve better. Understanding the current situation is the first step to change. As the Pew Charitable Foundation continues research, the task force will develop a greater understanding of what areas need the most work and what changes can have the greatest positive impact. Through discussions and education, the task force is positioned to make a major change for the better in the lives of Kentucky kids.