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Juvenile justice reform bill clears House floor

From Jordan Hensley, LRC

Frankfort, KY - A bill to reopen the Jefferson County Youth Detention center and expand mental health and restorative justice options for juveniles in the justice system advanced off the House floor Tuesday.

Bill sponsor Rep. Kevin D. Bratcher, R-Louisville, said House Bill 3 has been in the works for years and addresses many aspects of the juvenile justice system.

One major provision of HB 3 would require children taken into custody for a violent felony offense be detained a maximum of 48 hours before receiving a detention hearing and an evaluation on mental health and substance use disorders.

Bratcher said HB 3 will not "lock (children) up and throw away the key."

Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser, R-Taylor Mill, has worked with Bratcher on the bill to add restorative justice services and expand mental health treatment access.

On the House floor, Moser said the amended version of HB 3 would allow the state Justice and Public Safety Cabinet to enter into a contract with a behavior health service organization that is qualified to provide restorative practices, which are designed to hold the juvenile accountable to the victim.

"I just really appreciate the work that's been done to not only keep our streets safer, but to provide the kids who are in the justice system with the care that they need," Moser said.

Additionally, HB 3 seeks to hold uncooperative parents accountable when it comes to their child's school attendance or participation in a diversion program and keep records open for three years for children convicted of a violent felony offense. An earlier version of the bill kept records for violent juvenile felony offenders open for five years.

Since HB 3 had its first committee hearing on Feb. 15, more funds have been appropriated in the bill toward the Jefferson County Youth Detention Center and the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) as a whole.

HB 3 would now appropriate $19.1 million toward the renovation and operation of the Jefferson County Youth Detention Center, $5.8 million toward transportation costs at the DJJ, $9.6 million toward staffing needs at the DJJ and $4.5 million toward the renovation of the Jefferson Regional Juvenile Detention Facility at Lyndon.

Rep. Al Gentry, D-Louisville, attempted to amend HB 3 on the floor to remove the open records provision from the bill, but the motion failed.

"These are our kids, and I think it is extremely important that we do everything that we can possibly do to give these kids a chance at a good life, to rehabilitate from the mistakes they may have made," Gentry said.

In response, Bratcher said the purpose of opening records for juvenile violent felony offenders comes at the request of business owners who would like to know if a teenager they're hiring has a violent criminal record. Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, also said keeping records open for three years would prevent juveniles from being able to purchase a firearm.

Rep. Matt Lockett, R-Nicholasville, urged his colleagues to remember the victims of crime when considering HB 3.

"What about the victims? Where is their justice? Why are we not standing up for them? And I believe that this bill does that," Lockett said.

Several representatives from Louisville said their constituents are happy the Jefferson County Youth Detention Center would be reopened under HB 3. Rep. Keturah Herron, D-Louisville, is one of those lawmakers, but she believes the bill could do more.

"We cannot spend $39 million on incarcerating kids and not spend a penny on reentry, on intervention, on prevention and on alternatives to detention," Herron said.

In his final remarks, Bratcher said he hoped everyone would vote "yes" on the bill and "get the healing started in this state."

House Bill 3 was approved by a 79-18 vote. It will now go to the Senate for consideration.

This story was posted on 2023-03-01 06:55:37
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