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Kentucky lawmakers prioritizing juvenile justice reform in 2023

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Posted at 6:00 PM, Jan 10, 2023

(LEX 18) — Although Kentucky lawmakers plan on taking up fewer bills in 2023, one issue they are prioritizing is juvenile justice reform.

House Speaker David Osborne called the issue "extremely" important when discussing the 2023 legislative session.

"It's a crisis," said Osborne. "It is one that the governor has put a temporary band-aid on by making some executive order changes, but we've got problems that have to be addressed both in the actual structure of corrections, as well as the judicial code."

In late 2022, Governor Andy Beshear made changes to Kentucky's juvenile justice system.

According to a press release from the Governor's Office, the Department of Juvenile Justice will now operate three high-security detention centers for teen boys, 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.”

Beshear also ordered DJJ to open a female-only detention center in Campbell County.

The changes were announced after a riot took place in a juvenile detention center in Adair County on November 11th.

The situation was a tense topic of discussion in December when lawmakers grilled two members of Beshear's administration - Kerry Harvey, the Secretary of the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, and Vicki Reed, the Juvenile Justice Commissioner - in a joint judiciary hearing.

"What happened in Adair County? And what are you doing to fix it?" asked Sen. Whitney Westerfield, the committee's chairman.

"Staff was hurt, other youth were hurt," added Westerfield. "One youth was reportedly sexually assaulted by other youth."

"What happened in Adair County can't just be glossed over," said Rep. Jason Nemes during the meeting. "We have a young girl who was raped by multiple juvenile males."