- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 2, 2016

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Community-based services helped Cherrie Reynolds’ adopted son avoid juvenile detention, the mother from Atchison told legislators Tuesday, the second day of a Senate committee hearing on a bill that would overhaul the juvenile justice system.

Born addicted to cocaine and crystal methamphetamine, Reynolds’ son had a series of mental and physical health problems that made it difficult for him to function in school and led to him being arrested several times. She said she sought the help a decade ago of community-based services, much like those the bill would divert low-level juvenile offenders to instead of putting them in juvenile detention centers.

“The good news is, he’s come through on the other side,” Reynolds said about her son, who graduated in May and is now considering what do to next.

The bill in front of the Senate Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice also proposes to create a team to review cases with the input of families and educators and offers training for juvenile corrections officers.

Senators on the committee heard testimony from both sides of the issue, including district court judges who took part in a bipartisan group that conducted a study on the juvenile justice system and whose findings helped create the framework for the bill. That group found Kansas has the sixth-highest rate of juveniles in out-of-home placements in the country.

“We have a very complex system … and we also have very limited community programs and services,” former Kansas Department of Corrections Secretary Ray Roberts said.

But 24-year-old Taylor Miller of Topeka told legislators the bill wouldn’t solve everything.

“Out-of-home placements destroyed my family,” Miller said, explaining that three of her brothers were involved with the juvenile justice system from a young age and that the 19- and 20-year-olds have not graduated from high school yet.

Placing children in detention centers could introduce trauma that would alter their emotional well-being, according to Megan Milner, deputy superintendent of the Kansas Juvenile Correctional Complex in Topeka. She recommended any court decisions take into consideration a child’s normal development.

“For a lot of the kids that we work with, education is their way out of poverty and it is their way out of crime,” Milner said.

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