One of my legislative priorities has been juvenile justice reform, which we've achieved with 2014's SB200, a national model piece of legislation that has been used to shape several other state's reform efforts. One of the critical pieces of SB200 was the collection and sharing of data between agencies in the juvenile justice space, namely, the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), the Department for Community Based Services (DCBS, what people think of as "social services") and the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). These agencies have been hard at work complying with the new law, but also exploring other data points that we need to address. One of the biggest sore spots in need of reversing is our institutional disproportionate minority contact, or DMC. In short, we punish and lock up proportionally more minority kids (and in some cases simply more minority kids than white kids) when we shouldn't.
During the most recent meeting of the Juvenile Justice Oversight Council, a group to watch over the implementation of SB200 and to study and debate additional juvenile justice policies, we were shown some jarring numbers from DJJ.
Notice the Census data on the left versus the disposition data breakdown on the right. The DJJ disposition numbers don't exactly match up with the actual population of kids in Kentucky.
The Commitments across Kentucky are still worse. Keep in mind a "Commitment" in the juvenile justice system means that a state agency (in this case DJJ) is given custodial control over a juvenile for supervision in either the community or in an "out-of-home" placement.
Here's a chart that is particularly alarming, showing the disproportionate minority representation in the juvenile justice system that actually trends worse as the severity of the offense increases.
The problem is certainly apparent throughout Kentucky, though some counties are worse than others. Here are Kentucky's Top 10 juvenile offender counties by race:
Jefferson County is among the worst in the state, if not the worst:
The cause of all this is unclear. Are we seeing the results of implicit bias in the system? In us? Some blame a breakdown in the family. Others blame governmental systems for failing the youth of Kentucky. I think you could reasonably argue there is fault in both, and I feel confident everyone would agree that, regardless of the cause, this is a trend we should work together to eliminate. If the system is failing we should fix it. If families are failing, we should work to fix that too...somehow. Not all the solutions are to be found (or should be found) in the halls of government.
During the 2016 session I filed SB270 which would require the three main agencies (AOC, DJJ, DCBS) to collect data on race, gender and age. The bill also called for the agencies to identify DMC in their systems, develop a plan to eliminate it and then work the plan, reporting to the JJOC in a couple years about their progress. Unfortunately, the bill is stalled with floor amendments that, while not altogether bad, create logistic and cost hurdles for the agencies involved. In the meantime, I've asked them to simple comply with the requirements independently, without us passing a law forcing them to do so.
Needless to say, we have much work ahead of us.
P.S. ~ If you're interested, the full presentation of this data as presented before the JJOC on April 5, 2016, is available here: