Beshear: Additional changes for Kentucky juvenile detention centers, defensive tools for workers

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Posted at 5:12 PM, Jan 19, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-19 17:30:14-05

(LEX 18) — In response to violent incidents in Kentucky's detention centers for teens, Governor Andy Beshear announced additional changes on Thursday.

“In the last several months, our juvenile detention centers have seen violent outbursts. This has threatened the safety of staff and residents and resulted in substantial property damage to some of our centers,” said Beshear.

One of the big changes is providing Department of Juvenile Justice workers with defensive tools.

"For the first time in Kentucky - we're making defensive equipment available to DJJ's youth workers, who before now had no equipment with which to defend themselves or to defend youths when attacked," said Beshear.

"We can't continue where we are right now, which is our DJJ staff being injured and injured on a regular basis," added Beshear.

Beshear explained that DJJ staff currently have very limited ability to respond to violent situations.

"Right now, if we have a major incident, all they can do is lockdown - possibly not even intercede when there is a violent altercation because they don't have the ability to do so safely - and wait for the state police or others to arrive," added Beshear.

What type of equipment will staff have access to?

Pepper spray and tasers, according to the governor.

"What we have ordered primarily, right now, is pepper spray that will be carried, especially in the higher security facilities by these workers," said Beshear.

"Tasers will be located inside of the facilities - but we're looking at the policy of when and where they are carried as opposed to being there if necessary," he added.

Beshear emphasized that staff will be properly trained to use the equipment.

Other changes announced today include:

  • Raising the starting salary of DJJ workers in detention centers to $50,000 annually and ensuring that youth workers in detention centers will be reclassified as correctional officers.
  • Making substantial improvements to the physical facilities designed to enhance security.
  • 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.

"Ensuring the safety of our workers is the only way we have enough workers," said Beshear. "And then, ensuring the safety of our workers is the start to ensuring safety for the juveniles as well."
Previous changes the Beshear administration has taken include:

  • Opening the first female-only detention center in Campbell County in December.
  • Separating male juveniles by security levels 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 providing a 10% and later an 8% raise, as well as providing an increased hourly and shift premium.