Positive changes coming to juvenile justice system for first time in 25 years
FRANKFORT, Ky. (March 27, 2023) - Today, Gov. Andy Beshear signed two pieces of legislation as part of his solid, aggressive plan to implement sweeping improvements in Kentucky’s juvenile justice system.
For several months, the Governor and Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary Kerry Harvey have said robust and effective changes to the juvenile justice system require policy, budgetary and legislative action. The administration presented its juvenile justice legislative request to the General Assembly on Feb. 14, and the legislators have adopted the request. Today, Gov. Beshear signed Senate Bill 162 and House Bill 3 into law, reflecting the requested changes and budgetary items he had identified.
“We told the General Assembly what was needed to better protect our juveniles and staff, and while these two bills don’t include everything needed, they do contain critical funding for staff, equipment and the work needed to renovate the downtown Louisville facility,” said Gov. Beshear. “Thank you to Sen. Danny Carroll for listening to our proposals and working with us to include about 70% of our needs. This is a good step forward and I appreciate the General Assembly for taking these steps.”
“These two pieces of legislation are necessary steps in improving our juvenile justice system and build on the improvements we have already implemented to modernize a system that has changed very little over the last twenty years,” Secretary Harvey said. “I appreciate the opportunity to work collaboratively with Sen. Carroll to make these improvements as well as his leadership in the General Assembly.”
“We hope no juvenile in Kentucky finds their way to a Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) facility, but if they do, we are committed to providing the programming they need to successfully return to their community,” said Commissioner Vicki Reed. “We appreciate Gov. Beshear and the General Assembly for their bipartisan support of our staff, facilities and juveniles.”
Senate Bill 162
Gov. Beshear signed Senate Bill 162, which appropriates more than $25 million to DJJ for staff salaries, facility security upgrades, transportation costs and enhanced programming. The bill also recognizes the need to better serve those youth with severe mental health issues and divert them to more appropriate care.
By signing this bill, the Governor is also providing correctional officers at the Department of Corrections with $30 million in funding to increase new and current correctional officer salaries to a minimum of $50,000 annually.
House Bill 3
Gov. Beshear signed House Bill 3, providing almost $20 million to assess and redesign the Jefferson County Youth Detention Center in downtown Louisville, which has not been in operation since 2019 when Louisville Metro Government requested DJJ take over the responsibility of detaining charged and committed juveniles. Since that time, juveniles from Jefferson County and surrounding counties have been housed at the Jefferson Regional Juvenile Detention Center in Lyndon. By having a high-security facility in downtown Louisville, DJJ will be able to better assist Louisville Metro Police Department and the judicial system by being more centrally located.
Beshear-Coleman Administration Improvements to Juvenile Justice System
At Gov. Beshear’s direction, DJJ has been implementing a number of steps to enhance youth and staff safety.
The actions taken or planned include:
- Opening the first female-only detention center in Campbell County in December.
- For the first time in Kentucky, male juveniles are now separated by security level based on the severity of their offense.
- Working to expand the DJJ transportation branch to help law enforcement.
- Collaborating with the Kentucky State Police and Department of Corrections to enhance security in juvenile detention centers.
- Provided compensation enhancements to help DJJ better recruit and retain staff, including a 10% and later an 8% raise, as well as an increased hourly and shift premium.
- Raising the starting salary of DJJ workers in detention centers to $50,000 annually and reclassifying youth workers to correctional officers.
- Making substantial improvements to the physical facilities designed to enhance security.
- For the first time in Kentucky, defensive equipment is available to DJJ’s correctional officers in detention centers, who have had no equipment with which to defend themselves or youths when attacked.
- Training DJJ staff concerning the use of defensive equipment and the identification of threat groups within detention centers.
- Hiring a director of security who brings deep experience in operating secure facilities. That person is former Department of Corrections warden Larry Chandler as DJJ’s Director of Security.
- Creating a Compliance Division to ensure that best practices are identified and followed.
- Reorganizing the department by function to better manage the current challenges facing detention facilities.
- Procuring equipment and training personnel to better prevent the introduction of contraband into the facilities.
- Making or requesting a wide array of legislative, regulatory and policy changes designed to enhance the safety and security of DJJ facilities.
- Rationalizing the detention footprint by initiating the process to construct two new, state-of-the-art facilities.