- Associated Press - Monday, April 14, 2014

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky lawmakers completed work Monday on a bill that would revamp the state’s juvenile justice system by steering more young offenders into community-based treatment as an alternative to locking them up in detention centers.

The measure won final legislative approval on a 30-8 vote in the Senate on the next-to-last day of the 2014 regular session. All eight opposing votes came from Senate Republicans. The bill, which had won strong backing in the House, now goes to Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear for his consideration.

Beshear signaled his support, saying the measure represents progress in “starting to tackle such an important and complicated issue.” The governor praised the bipartisan work on the bill, led by Republican Sen. Whitney Westerfield and Democratic Rep. John Tilley, both of Hopkinsville.

Westerfield has said his bill would bring the biggest changes in decades to Kentucky’s juvenile justice system.

“It is a step toward getting better outcomes for our kids and doing so for less taxpayer money,” he said Monday.

Supporters have estimated the changes would produce about $24 million in savings over five years by emphasizing treatment over detention.

The bill aims to keep more kids out of detention centers for skipping school, running away or smoking. Youngsters accused of such “status offenses” could still end up in court and in detention, but only after early intervention through community-based treatment.

The treatment would include behavioral health, mental health and substance abuse services.

The bill’s reach would go further, allowing youths accused of misdemeanors or lesser felonies to avoid detention time, unless they committed sex or weapons crimes or had one prior offense. The changes would not affect the most serious young offenders.

Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, praised the bill’s policy changes aimed at using incarceration and out-of-home placements only when necessary. He cited research indicating that kids are often better served in the community.

“This bill will enhance public safety by shifting Kentucky spending in juvenile justice to services in the community that are more effective,” he said.

“That shift also means better use of taxpayer dollars because services to address family needs are less expensive than incarceration and other placements out of the home,” he added.


The legislation is Senate Bill 200.

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