Gov. Beshear: Juvenile Justice Changes to Separate Violent Youth Offenders, Protect Staff

FRANKFORT, Ky. (Dec. 15, 2022) – Today, Gov. Andy Beshear outlined a new system where the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) will operate three high-security detention centers for male juveniles 14 years of age or older who have been charged with offenses indicating a higher potential for violent, disruptive behavior.

“The current juvenile justice system has been in place for over 20 years, and it has not evolved to fit the needs of today’s at-risk youth and adequately respond to increased youth violence and involvement in gangs,” said Gov. Beshear. “A new detention classification system will allow DJJ and the commonwealth to better enhance public safety while ensuring that Kentucky’s youth have the tools and opportunities for a successful second chance.”

Last week, the Governor stated that the existing regional model system is outdated and has hindered the ability of DJJ to ensure the safety of youth and staff. Today, the Governor provided details on the three facilities designated as high-security and how they were selected based on the current charges of the youth population, number of detention center beds available and proximity to highways.

Male juveniles 14 or older who have been charged with a violent or serious offense (Capital, Class A, B or C felony) will soon be housed at:

  • Adair Regional Detention Center
  • Fayette Regional Juvenile Detention Center
  • Warren Regional Juvenile Detention Center

Male juveniles younger than 14 or who have been charged with a lower-level offense (Class D felony or lesser offense) will soon be housed at:

  • Boyd Regional Juvenile Detention Center
  • Breathitt Regional Juvenile Detention Center
  • Jefferson Regional Juvenile Detention Center
  • McCracken Regional Juvenile Detention Center

Male juveniles ages 14 or older charged with a Class D felony involving unusual violence may be assigned to a high-security facility.

Male juveniles younger than 14 or charged with lesser offenses who engage in violent or disruptive behavior while detained may be relocated to a high-security facility.

The target date for the change is January 2023.

“This classification system will allow DJJ to enhance protocols and training so staff can better respond to the current population. Over time, DJJ staff will be able to better deal with high-security detainees, always understanding that these youths must be treated with care and compassion but also recognizing that alleged violent offenders present different safety considerations,” said Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary Harvey.

“Our staff is faced with many challenges and yet they rise up to meet those challenges every day. I commend the Governor for taking this action to further protect our staff,” said DJJ Commissioner Vicki Reed. “The increase of violent youth in our DJJ facilities calls for new tools and training to assure the safety of our workers and the more vulnerable youth in our care.”

As of Dec. 14, DJJ had 171 male juveniles housed in detention centers throughout the commonwealth. Of these males, 82 have been charged with certain violent or serious offenses and 89 have been charged with lower-level offenses.

For the new classification system to best succeed, the department will need to hire additional staff and expand training requirements. DJJ is working with the Office of the State Budget Director and the Personnel Cabinet to offer an increased salary to security personnel working at the higher security detention centers.

The Governor has also recognized that because of the changing juvenile population, DJJ policies will need to be upgraded to provide staff with protective equipment to adequately respond when the offenders start a riot or assault staff or one another.

“I will not sit back and allow another staff member to be violently attacked without any defense,” Gov. Beshear said. “DJJ facilities will now be equipped with protective equipment. We are also exploring the possibility of equipment, such as tasers or pepper spray, and are purchasing body scanners to be placed in every detention center to help eliminate contraband coming into the facilities.”

Transportation Unit
The Governor said he will be calling upon the General Assembly in the new year to adequately fund a DJJ transportation unit by hiring additional personnel and purchasing more vehicles.

Males ordered to secure detention will be transported to the regional detention center and remain until their initial detention hearing within 48 hours (with certain allowances, including excluding weekends and holidays). Youth will be separated within the facility by charges. After the youth’s initial detention and hearing, law enforcement will return the youth to the detention center and DJJ will then transport them to the correct facility based on charges and available beds. Since Campbell Regional Juvenile Detention is a female-only detention center, male juveniles in the Campbell County area will need to be transported to Boyd Regional Juvenile Detention Center until their detention hearing.

Jefferson Regional Juvenile Detention Center
The Jefferson Juvenile Regional Detention Center located in Lyndon opened in January 2020 after budget cuts forced the City of Louisville to close its local juvenile detention facility. In November of this year, a test fire alarm raised questions about the system’s functionality, and leadership took the facility offline to make the necessary upgrades, including to the locks, fire alarm system and control center, which will need to be completed prior to reopening to juveniles charged with a less serious offense. Until the facility is cleared for occupancy, male juveniles from Jefferson will be relocated to another detention center.

Recruiting Applicants
DJJ is seeking qualified and passionate Kentuckians to fill more than 105 full-time positions throughout the state’s eight juvenile detention centers. The department’s job vacancy rates are improving, but the agency still needs more individuals who are committed to fostering and investing in the life of each youth and supporting them in their journeys toward successfully becoming more productive citizens and workforce participants.

“Making visible, meaningful differences in the lives of Kentucky’s youth is something that DJJ has the privilege to do through building relationships,” said Commissioner Reed. “These differences are made through investments in the lives of these youth, and anyone who desires to make these differences are encouraged to apply and help us make an even greater impact on the youth of Kentucky.”

Youth workers are the direct line of care and are some of the most needed and influential adults in the lives of youth in residential placement. They oversee daily activities, maintain safety and security, and assist youth with school and other pro-social activities while modeling and teaching positive social skills.

The hourly pay for a youth worker starts at $21.45. Shift hourly premium is also available, allowing employees to earn upwards of $25.71 an hour. New hires will receive a 5% pay increase after working for one year. Youth workers are eligible for hazardous duty retirement, for which these employees are eligible after 25 years of service, with no age requirement, or at 60 years of age after completion of 5 years of service.

Youth worker applicants are required to have:

  • A high school diploma or GED;
  • The ability to physically respond to an emergency situation;
  • A background check free of any sexual related offense, domestic violence, human or drug trafficking or drug-related charge in the last eight years; a conviction of a felony, a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence or trafficking in narcotics, drugs or controlled substances; and
  • A valid driver’s license.

Anyone hired as a youth worker will attend four weeks of training. For more about a career with DJJ, visit the Kentucky Personnel’s Cabinet website.

Administration’s Changes To Positively Improve the Juvenile Justice System
Today’s announcement follows recent actions the administration has taken to support the Department of Juvenile Justice.

On Dec. 1, the Governor ordered DJJ to open a female-only detention center in Campbell County. Effective Dec. 7, females between the ages of 11 to 18 ordered by the courts to secure detention are now housed at the Campbell Regional Juvenile Detention Center, with limited exceptions. The detention center located in Newport has 35 detention beds available. As at any DJJ facility, females will receive education, counseling, recreation opportunities, meals, snacks and health care.

In November, DJJ created a Compliance Branch to conduct random staff interviews and unannounced facility inspections. The branch’s goal is to enhance safety and security throughout DJJ and make recommendations to leadership for improvements.

In October, Gov. Beshear and DJJ awarded $354,666 in grant funding to assist state and local governments in reducing juvenile crime by preventing justice system involvement or intervening with first-time and nonserious offenders to divert contact with the juvenile justice system.

The Governor and Commissioner Reed reopened the Mayfield Youth Development Center, located in Graves County in July after the facility experienced extensive damage from the December 2021 tornadoes.