Over the course of 2012 and 2013, we studied Kentucky's Juvenile Justice system. Our findings were not good, and the recommendations for legislative action were big. What followed was the most comprehensive overhaul to the system in nearly 30 years, Senate Bill 200. This overhaul, passed in 2014 and fully in effect as of July 2015, has become a national model for other states to follow. States from West Virginia to Kansas and South Dakota have looked at what Kentucky has done. The bottom line is that we were holding kids who hadn't committed any crimes with kids who had committed some of the worst crimes there are, and we were detain low-level offenders out of home when a community based approach is both far more effective for kids and their families, and far less expensive to the taxpayer. We weren't always assessing the needs of the child in a meaningful way. Senate Bill 200 required a risk and needs assessment early in the process and brought that community based approach to life.
So far, the numbers from the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), and the Department for Community Based Services (DCBS) look promising. While it's too early to claim broad success, we are, for the moment, trending in that direction:
FAIR (Family Accountability Intervention and Response) Teams were created in SB200 as multi-disciplinary teams of local professionals to review cases that otherwise would have ended up in court. The FAIR Team's goal is to plug kids in to community based resources and programs to address their needs. A teacher gave me the example of a young student who was punished for being disobedient and insubordinate. The child was acting out of a mental health diagnosis that the system was unaware had been made. This kid was punished when all he needed was mental health care.
Likewise there are kids who are merely truant (which is a behavior that should definitely be corrected with the child and/or the parents involved) who would share a cell behind razor wire two hours from home with the kids who sold drugs or committed violent crimes. This is incredibly harmful to the kids involved, making their situations worse. Adding insult to injury, holding kids out of home is incredibly expensive. Adults held in state prison cost the taxpayer about $22k a year. Juvenile detention beds cost about $100k a year.
Now that FAIR Teams are meeting across the state we can see that nearly half of the cases that would’ve gone to court are now being resolved through the FAIR Team process - making an enormous positive impact on the lives of these children and their families, while avoiding the enormous drain on the taxpayer with court dockets and detention.
41% of kids that would've gone to court were successfully diverted out of the system, making a huge difference in their lives and sparing the high cost of increased court dockets and detention centers.