To Lower Kentucky’s Youth Detention Population, Beshear Calls On Legislature To Amend Laws

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear

On Thursday, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear called on the legislature to enact statutory changes aimed at lowering the number of youth detained by the troubled Department of Juvenile Justice.  

Beshear said he hopes lawmakers will amend KRS 610.190 to allow juvenile offenders to qualify for bail as set by their detaining court, as adults can. He is also asking the legislature to remove status offenders and youth charged with Class B misdemeanors from detention.

“What we’re asking is that everybody do their part — all three branches of government. Let’s not try to beat each other up over this, let’s fix it,” said Beshear.

In his weekly Team Kentucky update, Beshear said his administration is “taking strong and quick action” to make juvenile detention centers safer for both staff and youth.

Among those actions is having Kentucky State Police troopers placed in the Commonwealth’s three high security juvenile detention facilities in Adair, Fayette and Warren counties “until their staffing and  training reaches a level where it is not necessary.”

Earlier on Thursday, Republican lawmakers called for an investigation into the Department of Juvenile Justice, as well for an outside trustee to oversee reform in the department amid a series of riots, escapes and assaults at Kentucky youth detention facilities

In addition to detention centers, DJJ also offers  post-adjudication services including youth development centers, group homes, and day treatment centers. 

One of Beshear’s early steps to reform  the DJJ was to open the state’s first female-only detention center in Campbell County. The facility was opened in December following allegations that a teenage girl was sexually assaulted during a November riot  at the Adair County Youth Development Center.

Additionally, male juveniles in detention are now separated based on the level of security needed for their offense. Male juveniles charged with serious offenses are housed in the state’s three high security detention centers while male juveniles younger than 14 years of age with lower-level offenses will be housed at facilities in Jefferson, McCracken, Breathitt, and Boyd counties.

“We've ensured now that a 17-year-old youth who is charged with capital murder is not in the same building or sitting right next to a 13-year-old charged with contempt of court for truancy,” said Beshear. “These changes have made our juvenile detention center safer for the staff and for the youth.”

Other goals involved to recruit and retain new staff members. In a previous announcement, Beshear said that the starting pay was being raised to $50,000, up from $30,000 when he took office.

“When we got closer to that $50,000 mark we saw fewer people leaving and the hiring has started to pick up,” said Beshear.

The governor said his administration is also trying to enhance security at DJJ facilities.

“We're making substantial improvements to the physical facilities and they're designed to enhance security,” he said. For the first time we're making defensive equipment available to DJJ youth workers we’re training DJJ staff on the use of that equipment and on the identification of threat groups within the detention centers.”

Beshear’s administration is also asking the legislature to approve $77 million for funding improvements and more staffing at the detention centers. 

For a breakdown of the funds and other issues, such as flood and tornado relief, watch the governor’s press conference here