Call to Order and Roll Call
The1st meeting of the Task Force on the Unified Juvenile Code was held on Tuesday, July 31, 2012, at<MeetTime> 2:00 PM, in Room 171 of the Capitol Annex. Senator Katie Stine, Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.
Members:Senator Katie Stine, Co-Chair; Representative John Tilley, Co-Chair; Harry L. Berry, Hasan Davis, Lisa P. Jones, Robert D. Neace, Mary C. Noble, Pamela Priddy, Peter Schuler, and Steve Trimble.
Guests: Judge Karen Thomas, Chief Regional District Judge, Campbell County; Judge James Adams, Vice Chief Regional District Judge, Christian County; Judge Joan Byer, Family Court Judge, Jefferson County; Rebecca DiLoreto, Children’s Law Center; Eric Friedlander, Deputy Secretary, Cabinet for Health and Family Services; Clyde Caudill, Kentucky Association of School Administrators; Clarence Williams, Louisville Metro Youth Detention Services; Kim Allen, Metro Criminal Justice Commission; Kathy Adams, Children’s Alliance; Kate Haydon, Community Action Kentucky; and LaShana Harris, Department of Juvenile Justice.
Senator Stine introduced the members of the task force and thanked them for their willingness to serve and for their interest in improving the juvenile justice system in Kentucky.
Issues Relating to Juvenile Justice
Karen Thomas, Chief Regional District Judge, Campbell County, said placing juvenile status offenders in the court system creates an adversarial environment which does not address the real needs of juveniles and their families. Most status offenders are charged with being beyond control of the parent or school and habitual truancy. She said nine Truancy Diversion Programs have been established to address habitual truancy problems, including early intervention during the pre-court stage using case management and multidisciplinary consultation, and involvement of school personnel, court personnel and community partners. These programs have reduced habitual truancy charges by 90 percent in Campbell County.
Judge Thomas discussed the Campbell County Status Offense Project, based on the Reclaiming Futures model, which unites courts, probation, adolescent substance abuse treatment and the community to reclaim youth. Campbell County court staff and community stakeholders have partnered with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, Department for Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities (DBHDID) to integrate pieces of the Reclaiming Futures model to improve outcomes for pre-court or diverted juvenile offenders. Initiated in March 2012, the project is designed to screen and assess juvenile offenders and their families, and coordinate treatment programs and services, with the involvement of school personnel and court personnel before a formal complaint is filed. She discussed the Global Appraisal of Individual Needs (GAIN) Short Screen assessment tool for juvenile offenders, use of court designated workers acting as case managers, and data reporting requirements. Sixty-five to 70 percent of juvenile offenders have at least one diagnosable mental health need, and about 25 percent have serious emotional issues, including trauma, mental illness, substance abuse or other special needs. Based on the success of the Campbell County Status Offense Project, she recommended adoption of a standardized screening and assessment tool, use of evidence-based treatment practices, development of standards for multiple agency information sharing, and a more coordinated and efficient funding structure to better serve juvenile offenders and their families.
In response to a question from Mr. Schuler regarding her comment on the adversarial nature of status offenses, Judge Thomas explained attorneys representing juveniles before the court may not necessarily argue for what is in the best interest of the child or their family. If the court finds the juvenile in contempt, the child must be placed in juvenile detention, which is the last resort for the courts under current law.
James Adams, Vice-Chief Regional District Judge, Christian County, told the members he served on the panel that revised the juvenile code in 1987. He discussed the success of juvenile drug courts with a recidivism rate of less than eight percent and recommended they be expanded to other jurisdictions in the state. He suggested the Department of Juvenile Justice might be the best agency to administer and fund these courts. He agreed with Judge Thomas about the need for a statewide juvenile risk assessment tool. Judge Adams also briefly discussed disproportionate minority confinement (DMC).
Justice Noble said she would like to see the jurisdiction language in the statutes clarified because some counties handle juvenile cases in district court along with abuse, dependency and neglect cases, while other counties place all juvenile status offenses in family court, creating inconsistencies in the judicial system. She asked if the juvenile drug court in Christian County is limited to status offenders or also includes abuse, dependency and neglect cases. Justice Noble said the statutes need to be constructed recognizing the difference in civil versus criminal standards, because the courts can only go so far. Judge Adams agreed with her recommendation and said the same burden of proof is required in both courts. He recommended the task force look at what other states have been implementing and referred to Clayton County, Georgia.
Mr. Schuler agreed the courts are spending too much time on due process for status offense cases and perhaps that time and expense would be better spent developing and funding services for juvenile offenders.
In response to a question from Judge Jones, Judge Adams elaborated on the DMC project in Christian County, which recognizes the cultural, racial and ethnic differences of the juvenile offenders before the court. The DMC project front loads services to keep these children out of the court system.
Representative Tilley assumed chairmanship for the remainder of the meeting.
Judge Joan Byer, Family Court Judge, Jefferson County, told the task force that during her 16 years as a judge, she has found the juvenile justice system is not effective, efficient or cost effective. The court system responds to behaviors, not causes, and the juvenile justice system needs to spend more money on educating children rather than on incarcerating them. Many of the children she deals with have been witness to or victims of adult domestic violence or drug abuse, and have developed a lack of trust in adults. The school systems are too quick to push troubled children out of school because they do not want to affect their average daily attendance figures. She recommended amending Kentucky’s truancy laws to increase the number of days missed without a valid excuse that are required to be classified as a truant. The current standard is unrealistic and too stringent. The focus should be on what families need to be successful, not on what the courts and prosecutors need. She provided the task force with copies of a recent publication entitled Reclaiming Futures in Kentucky and encouraged them to review the information. She also encouraged the members to look at what other states are doing to improve the juvenile justice system, and information from the Coalition for Juvenile Justice. At the request of Ms. Priddy, Judge Byer agreed to advise staff of the studies and articles she referred to so they can be shared with the members.
Rebecca DiLoreto, Children’s Law Center, told the members the resources available for incarcerating juvenile offenders would be better spent developing a community based, family focused, child-oriented system of services. Juvenile detention is very expensive and juvenile offenders are sent to detention for lesser crimes than adults. Juvenile detention facilities do not address the causes of the troubling behavior of juveniles and increases the chances of recidivism and future criminal activity. Status offenders who are not a danger to the community are incarcerated with offenders who have committed serious offenses and are more likely to engage in criminal activity after their release. Approximately 5.8 percent of juveniles committed to the Department of Juvenile Justice facilities are violent offenders as defined by the FBI and incarceration is appropriate. She also noted the racial disparity of court decisions and the refusal of the courts and prosecutors to allow diversion for juvenile offenders. There is no coordination among agencies who serve juveniles, a tendency to criminalize all offenses, a failure to provide juvenile mental health services, there are health insurance barriers to substance abuse treatment for juveniles, and it is too easy for parents and school systems to turn to the courts for solutions to juvenile behaviors. She said parents and schools must return to teaching values to our children, and hold them accountable. She noted the Kentucky Criminal Justice Council suggested revisions for the juvenile code in 2002 which could be helpful to the members.
Discussion on Task Force Direction
Representative Tilley thanked the presenters for their interest and concern about the juvenile justice system in Kentucky and encouraged members to communicate with staff on specific topics needing review. He asked Ray DeBolt, task force staff, to work with the members to determine a meeting date for the remainder of the interim.
Senator Stine asked staff to work with the National Conference of State Legislatures, Council of State Governments, ALEC, Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the Pew Center for the States to find relevant materials and speakers for future meetings. She agreed with Judge Thomas that the current funding structure for the juvenile justice system needs further examination by the task force.
The meeting adjourned at 3:50 p.m.