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Legislators receive overview on juvenile justice disparities

From Nancy Royden, LRC

Frankfort, KY - During Tuesday's joint meeting of the Commission on Race and Access to Opportunity and the Juvenile Justice Oversight Council, legislators and others received an overview on disparities within Kentucky's juvenile justice system.

Cortney Downs and Shannon Moody of Louisville-based Kentucky Youth Advocates presented statistics from the Kentucky Administrative Office of the Courts.

The numbers touched on many topics, including racial disparities in criminal complaints, detention, diversion, and youthful offender referrals.

For instance, 22% of all complaints filed in 2022 were against Black youths, who only comprise about 11% of Kentucky's juvenile population. Around 8% of all complaints were filed against multi-racial youths, who make up about 2% of the population.

Overall, about 69% of juvenile cases that were resolved in circuit court in 2022 involved youth of color, according to the statistics provided Tuesday.

Sen. Karen Berg, D-Louisville, said she was concerned about some of the numbers.

"I'm looking through some of the data and it is just, I mean I don't even know what word to use to describe it," she said. "It looks like on average Black kids are going to be arrested at twice the rate that they belong in the population. But then we have some counties here where it's three or four times."

Berg asked if those numbers are passed on to counties and if officials in those counties are aware that their rates are out of proportion to their population.

Rachel Bingham, director of the Office of Statewide Programs at the Administrative Office of the Courts, attended the meeting and answered questions. She said the information is provided to counties but cautioned that the number of cases varies between rural and urban communities.

"We provide this because it's important for the community to know what is coming into the juvenile justice system and what those numbers look like," Bingham said. "And you're absolutely right that in some of the counties it is very concerning obviously to see."

Senate Democratic Floor Leader Gerald A. Neal, R-Louisville, said he has a background as a juvenile probation officer and has worked extensively with juveniles in the legal field. He encouraged those at the meeting to be careful with the information that was shared and suggested they revisit the matter.

"Let me point out these judgments are subjective, and we can set objective criteria," he said. "To make those judgments in various and varying circumstances is really subjective to a significant extent, and there's an exception to everything anybody says in this room."

Senate President Pro Tempore David P. Givens, R-Greensburg, asked Bingham if disabilities are considered in juvenile cases.

"You're indicating that we're still in the infancy of collecting and utilizing this information. Do judges use this as a consideration in the process today or not? If a young person appears before you as a judge and you know that that young person has a disability, is that influential or not," he said.

Bingham answered yes - when the youth is before a judge. But she also noted that the level of information varies at other points of contact.

Kentucky Youth Advocates shared three recommendations with the commission and council.

They include expansion of the use of diversion, especially for young children and those who commit status and lower-level offenses, reduction of the use of county attorney and judicial overrides, and consideration the Tennessee model, the Second Look Commission.

This story was posted on 2023-06-20 19:53:33
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