Legislative update: Bills aimed at improving state’s juvenile justice system

50th District State Representative

Wednesday, May 17, 2023 — Reforming the state’s dysfunctional and dangerous juvenile justice system was one of our top priorities going into the 2023 Regular Session. Incidents at our juvenile facilities – including riots, arson, and breakouts – escalated dramatically over the past couple of years with personnel and residents injured and hospitalized. We knew that something must change and have been extremely disappointed in the lack of leadership to make those changes within the administration. We have a long road ahead of us, but we made considerable strides this session as we passed several pieces of legislation aimed at starting positive change.


Lawmakers began working on the issue during the 2022 Interim and in January, legislators came together as an informal, bipartisan workgroup to discuss potential improvements. Similar workgroups have produced positive results, for example, the innovative school safety package passed by lawmakers in 2019 was the result of a workgroup. In January, legislators heard from individuals who work within the system, as well as educators and others who partner with our juvenile justice agency. Those firsthand accounts painted a picture of disorganization, understaffing, low employee morale, poor communications, a lack of accountability, and limited services to help youth as well as other issues. They also helped identify solutions. While difficult, these conversations have produced long-term and short-term proposals to improve the system, many of which are incorporated into HB 3.

One of the most obvious improvements brought to light by the workgroup was an agreement that Louisville needs a juvenile detention facility. The city is not only the state’s largest, but also faces major crime issues and serves as a regional hub. HB 3 includes a provision that requires an existing vacant facility be assessed and potentially renovated to house juvenile offenders. It includes a total of $13.2 million in funding for the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) towards the assessment, design, and renovation as well as an additional $2 million towards operating costs when it opens. The facility itself served the community as a juvenile justice facility operated by Louisville Metro Government until budget cuts forced its closure several years ago. Since then, many of Louisville’s juvenile offenders have been sent to a facility in Adair County, creating issues within that detention center and making it tough for families to visit. HB 3 also includes $4.5 million toward the renovation of the Jefferson Regional Detention Center in Lyndon.

While the measure addressed juvenile justice’s physical needs, it also strengthened statutory requirements for youth detained for violent felony offenses. Going forward, these individuals will be detained for a maximum of 48 hours before receiving a detention hearing – keeping our state safer from violent offenders and decreasing the potential for retaliation in gang violence. The measure does allow members of the clergy, family, and other verified support to visit the juvenile during the 48-hour period.

Though we want to be tough on crime, we also need to recognize the valuable opportunity to get these youth into mental health care and restorative justice programs, including substance abuse therapy. HB 3 requires juveniles detained to be examined to determine if the child could benefit from evidence-based behavioral health programs or substance use disorder treatment.

The measure also requires the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet to contract with qualified mental health professionals and behavioral health organizations to provide any recommended treatment. Lastly, it holds parents and guardians accountable when juveniles fail to appear for preliminary intake inquiry or complete the agreement due to lack of parental cooperation.

In addition to HB 3, we passed HB 553, which reallocates an unused $78 million in general fund dollars to provide funding for the reforms in HB 3 and SB 162.

SB 162 provides millions towards salary increases, security upgrades, and programming. The bill also allows DJJ officers access to pepper spray and tasers to use during violent incidents. Understanding the issues plaguing our juvenile justice system was also crucial, which is why we passed SB 162. This legislation requires the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet to maintain a comprehensive data system for the Department of Juvenile Justice. SB 162 also requires that all eight juvenile detention centers report to one supervisor, appoints House and Senate members to an oversight council, and allows the DJJ to contract with providers to treat juveniles with severe emotional or mental illnesses.

As always, I can be reached here at home anytime at (502) 510-1464, or through the toll-free message line in Frankfort at 1-800-372-7181. Feel free to contact me via email at Candy.Massaroni@lrc.ky.gov. If you would like more information, please visit the legislature’s website at www.legislature.ky.gov.


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