I'm thankful and proud for the immense amount of effort that went into creating and passing Senate Bill 200 – a bill I am proud to have sponsored – making the biggest reforms of Kentucky's Juvenile Justice system in 30 years. Tonight, as a follow-up to the Frontline PBS documentary about Kentucky's adult-side justice reforms, KET has put together a special of their own, airing tonight at 10/9pm CST, focusing further on the results of the adult reforms sponsored by John Tilley in 2011, and the hope of results on the juvenile side with my bill this year.
KET's Renee Shaw interviewed a number of professionals that play a role in Kentucky's justice system at all levels, including my friends Rep. John Tilley (D, Hopkinsville) and former DJJ Commissioner, Hasan Davis, both of whom worked hard on Senate Bill 200 before and during the 2014 Regular Session. You can catch a sneak preview of their interviews here. The KET videos are also embedded below.
The idea behind SB200 is simple: for low-level offenders with no history and status offender kids who haven't committed an actual crime, ordering detention with the kids we all agree should be locked up is the worst possible solution. It's both ineffective (not improving recidivism) and incredibly expensive (those detention beds cost on average between $87,000-$100,000 annually).
Why not get at the heart of the behavior of these status and low-level kids? If they're missing school so frequently shouldn't we consider holding a parent accountable? If they're running away, shouldn't we determine why or what they're running from? If the kids are creating a disturbance in the classroom, which we obviously cannot and shouldn't ignore, shouldn't we try to resolve the cause of that behavior? Is there a mental health concern? Is there physical or emotional abuse at home or at school? Right now our system is not asking these questions often enough or soon enough, and its costing our youth and all of us as taxpayers, and in ways that are both readily identifiable and in ways we cannot hope to estimate but we are certain exist. For instance, how many individual lives and families are we saving (not to mention tax dollars) when we change the course of a kid's life from a detention cell to the welcoming encouragement of a mentor? What are the ripple effects of that changed life across generations, and over time, across our communities and the Commonwealth?
This is an effort we must undertake, and I am honored to have played a part in taking the first giant step forward.