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New Lexington program to reduce juvenile recidivism

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Posted at 10:26 PM, Nov 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-18 22:26:06-05

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — Fayette County is getting its first-ever juvenile treatment court as an innovative approach to reduce the number of youth committing crimes.

The wellness court program is the brainchild of two Fayette County District Court judges Lindsay Hughes Thurston and Melissa Moore Murphy. Thurston says every day they were seeing the effects of a young person who'd experienced trauma.

"We just quickly discovered this was a need a need to deep dive to laser focus in on our youth," said Thurston. "Not all of them are out there making bad decisions just because they woke up one day deciding that's what they wanted to do. There're underlying things going on in their lives."

Thurston says the impact of trauma is why they are creating the first juvenile treatment court in the county to give youth who've committed certain crimes another opportunity at getting it right.

If chosen for the program, they would follow a four-phased plan that includes a mentor, counseling, and education for as long as it takes until they reach 18 years old. Once they graduate, their offenses are wiped from their record. It's modeled after the adult mental health court in Fayette County led by Judge Tackett.

"We're already investing in our youth in our juvenile justice system, but this is just a different way to ensure the community safety, to reduce recidivism, but also to surround these youth in services that they would also get in juvenile court. But in juvenile treatment court, they're getting all the services that we can come up with to help them feel good and realize that they matter," said Thurston.

They're partnering with several organizations in the community like Fayette County Public Schools, New Vista, and Trauma-Informed Counseling Center.

"We're hopeful upon graduation that we've given them every single tool in our toolbox that we have to share with them to just make sure that they are living life and feeling good and realizing that they're important," said Thurston.

While they have been funded for two years by the urban county government, the judges created a non-profit called "You Matter Kentucky", with its own Board of Directors, to fundraise and accept contributions from the community to help sustain court operations.

"Our goal in this mission is to make as much change and have as much impact on the children and families in this community that we can have," said Thurston.