Beshear announces juvenile justice reform

Published 10:08 am Friday, December 16, 2022

Gov. Andy Beshear announced on Thursday his plans to reform Kentucky’s Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), including housing those accused of more serious or violent crimes in higher security settings.

“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,” Beshear said during his weekly Capitol press conference. “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.”

Under his proposal, male juveniles 14 or older who have been charged with a violent or serious offense—such as Capital, Class A, B, or C felonies, as well as Class D felonies with unusual violence—will soon be housed at the regional juvenile detention centers in Adair, Fayette and Warren counties.

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Male juveniles younger than 14 or those who have been charged with a lower-level offense—such as Class D felonies and misdemeanors—will soon be housed at the regional juvenile detention centers located in Boyd, Breathitt, Jefferson and McCracken counties.

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.

The target for implementing the changes is January 2023.

Two weeks ago, as his first step, Beshear said there would be an all-female detention facility at Newport, in northern Kentucky, which has already taken place.

The changes follow a disturbance at a facility in Adair County last month, in which several staff members as well as young people being held there were injured. Several girls at the facility were reportedly attacked, and even sexually assaulted, after one juvenile allegedly attacked a staff member, took their keys and opened other cells.

Following an initial briefing with state lawmakers on his proposals, which include beefing up security and transportation of the juveniles, Beshear said they want to continue the dialogue.

“What I told them is these are some immediate steps we need to take. None of them are the ultimate answers, so I look forward to any and all input by the General Assembly.”

He did not say how much additional funding would be needed.

“Right now, due to staffing shortages, we have enough money within the budget to do a lot of these things,” Beshear said. “But I’m certainly more than open to a conversation with the General Assembly, whether it’s about a new facility or others, and the expenses. I hope we have everybody working together for the safety of our people and the safety of these juveniles.”

He added that the DJJ is looking for qualified and passionate Kentuckians to fill more than 105 full-time positions throughout the state’s eight juvenile detention centers.