Call to Order and Roll Call
The1st meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary was held on Friday, June 3, 2011, at 10:00 AM, in Room 171 of the Capitol Annex. Senator Tom Jensen, Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.
Members:Senator Tom Jensen, Co-Chair; Representative John Tilley, Co-Chair; Senators Perry B. Clark, Carroll Gibson, Ray S. Jones II, John Schickel, Katie Kratz Stine, Robin L. Webb, and Jack Westwood; Representatives Kelly Flood, Sara Beth Gregory, Joni L. Jenkins, Mary Lou Marzian, Mike Nemes, Darryl T. Owens, Tom Riner, and Brent Yonts.
Guests: Terry Brooks and Tara Grieshop-Goodwin, Kentucky Youth Advocates; Daryl Baer; Clyde Caudill, Kentucky Association of School Administrators; Robert Jones, Community Action Kentucky; Shannon Stiglitz and Teresa Combs, Kentucky School Boards Association; Gary Wiseman, Paris Independent Schools; and Bill Doll and Marty White, Kentucky Medical Association.
Problems relating to jailing of status offenders in Kentucky
The first speakers were Terry Brooks, Executive Director, and Tara Grieshop-Goodwin, Deputy Director, of Kentucky Youth Advocates. Mr. Brooks defined status offenses as misconduct that is not criminal and would not be illegal if committed by adults, such as skipping school, acting beyond control, running away, and tobacco and alcohol charges. Youth charged with status offenses in Kentucky are detained at the second highest rate in the nation, excluding Jefferson County which does not place status offenders in detention.
Mr. Brooks said detention of status offenders is not only the most expensive approach, but it is also the least effective, as youth who are detained face greater risk of poor education, work, and health outcomes, as well as future incarceration. Secure detention, though appropriate for some offenses, has not proved effective in addressing status offenses. Detention fails to address factors that contribute to the inappropriate behavior, and the costs of detention significantly outweigh other placement options that can address underlying problems. Last year, 1,541 status offenders were detained at a cost of $94 per day for a total cost of just under $1 million. Mr. Brooks discussed various alternatives to detention through programs operated by the Administrative Office of the Courts (truancy diversion), Department of Juvenile Justice, Department for Community Based Services, and private programs.
Mr. Brooks said Kentucky Youth Advocates recommends placing a time limit on probation for youth offenses (currently a child of 12 can be on probation until 18 and be punished for a new offense after many years of good behavior), ensuring judges have full information from court designated workers and school systems to show that all school-based and community services were attempted before judicial intervention, limiting the use of detention before a child is found to have committed the act, and requiring the document prepared for the judge on the appropriateness of secure detention to include all available alternatives to detention and any special education needs of the child.
One example cited by Mr. Brooks was the case of a child who violated the school cell phone rule for a second time, refused to go to the school office, was charged with being out of control, and was sentenced to 30 days of secure detention. Ms. Grieshop-Goodwin suggested that alternatives to detention, which are currently available but not being used, would result in better outcomes and should be tried prior to the use of the courts and detention.
The next speaker was Gary Wiseman, Superintendent of the Paris Independent School System, who said his goal is to have every child in school and not in detention. He said school systems must have tools to address excessive absences, and many times it is a parent issue. Courts can make parents comply with truancy regulations but school systems do not have that authority. Many communities do not have adequate community alternatives for status offenders, and said this might be a good opportunity to rewrite Kentuckyís truancy laws. The county attorney, diversion programs, court designated workers, judges and parents must work in partnership to address status offenses, which many times are related to underlying issues in the home. Every school should have a school psychologist to deal with mental health issues in the home.
The next speaker was Teresa Combs, Kentucky School Boards Association, who said she recommends using the courts to force parents to comply with truancy regulations. She said parenting classes should be required for parents with children causing problems in the schools, and that sometimes secure detention is a valuable alternative. Representative Flood asked if children who are seven or eight years old should be sent to court, and Ms. Combs said she did not agree with that approach to children who may be acting beyond control.
Senator Schickel said in some cases detention may save a child's life. For example when a 14-year-old female runaway who looks like she is twenty-three is found at a truck stop along the interstate, law enforcement has no choice but to release her without secure detention. There is no other way to detain her until her parents can pick her up, sometimes from another state. He said there are many good parents out there who are frustrated with the current status offender system, and sometimes detention is the best thing that can happen to a child because it can save their life.
Juvenile law matters
Hasan Davis, Deputy Commissioner, Department of Juvenile Justice, said his agency is the final stop in the status offender system, responsible for providing secure detention placements for status offenders who have often been passed off by other agencies or the school systems. He said some school systems abuse the status offender system because they do not want to deal with problem children who skip school, act out of control, or run away from home. Many times they do not have the resources or alternatives to address the underlying problems these children face at home, including poor parenting, neglect, sexual abuse, domestic violence, and drug and alcohol abuse. Mr. Davis said school systems and other agencies, including the Department for Community Based Services, are not doing the job they should be doing to address status offenses and have come to rely on his agency to do the job for them. Everyone should be held accountable and the Department of Juvenile Justice needs more resources to provide suitable alternatives to detention of status offenders.
The next speakers were District Judges Karen Thomas of the 17th Judicial District, Robert Heaton of the 57th Judicial District, and John McCarty of the 38th Judicial District. They were accompanied by Assistant Christian County Commonwealth Attorney Duncan Cavanah, a juvenile prosecutor in the 3rd Judicial District. Judge Thomas said status offenders frequently have things going on at home, the result of poor parenting, abuse or neglect, and the child ends up in the court system. She described the Administrative Office of the Courts Truancy Diversion Program, a successful program for children with excessive absences, which keeps the children in school and preserves average daily attendance funding for the school systems. She noted the need for increased funding for court designated workers who work with status offenders in the court system and make recommendations to the judges. The courts do not have the money or the resources to act as social workers. The Department for Community Based Services needs to address the underlying problems these children are dealing with at home rather than passing them along to the court system.
Another problem cited by Judge Thomas is that school systems readily allow parents to withdraw their children and home school them, when many times, the parents have very little education and are not qualified to provide an education to their children. The parents no longer have to deal with the school system, the schools do not have to count them as truant, jeopardizing their daily student funding, but ultimately the children do not receive a quality education, because there is no state oversight for home schooling. Judge Thomas said the courts have limited options to force parents to comply with school regulations when it is the child who is before the court.
Judge Heaton agreed with Judge Thomas and said a private Christian school in his area does not even require its students to attend school. He said there are 168 court designated workers to handle 40,000 status offense cases statewide, an unmanageable caseload. It is too easy for parents to take children out of public schools to home school them, as many parents only have a high school education, and often times even less education.
Judge McCarty said secure detention is sometimes used for the protection of the child. He said because there are very limited alternatives to detention, his court must go to other counties for alternative services. Lack of parenting or bad parenting is a very big problem in his area. The biggest impediment to accessing mental health services is the medical card and many times, the Department for Juvenile Justice is the entry point to access these services. Judges Thomas, Heaton and McCarty all agreed there is an incredible need for qualified mental health professionals in the school system.
Senator Jensen asked the judges and other participants to make a list of things they felt the General Assembly could do in terms of statutory changes.
Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Cavanah indicated Christian County faces the same problems and no one wants status offenders detained, but limited resources and services are a problem. To obtain alternatives to detention, he must send status offenders to McCracken County. Ankle monitors used by the Department for Juvenile Justice require land-line telephones, which many families no longer have, meaning children of those families are not eligible for home detention. He recommended the department switch to GPS monitors which do not require land-line telephones. There is inadequate funding for them even though they are cheaper than detention.
Representative Flood commended Deputy Commissioner Hasan Davis and the programs of the Department of Juvenile Justice. She questioned why no one from the Department of Community Based Services attended the meeting. The department must be involved in the discussion of status offenders. The department has stepped back because other agencies have stepped up to address this problem. She recommended the General Assembly statutorily require them to be the lead agency for treatment of status offenders in Kentucky. Senator Jensen told the committee the Department for Community Based Services was not asked to appear before the committee today, but it would be invited to a future meeting to continue the discussion of treatment of status offenders.
Representative Marzian said the Department for Community Based Services is completely overwhelmed and has lost many social workers because it cannot handle the huge caseloads or have been laid off. There is an obvious need to increase state funding for social workers. She was also concerned about the lack of regulation and oversight of home schooling. She suggested the comprehensive care centers throughout the state might be able to provide alternatives to detention for status offenders.
†Senator Webb said another problem she has seen is when children pass the state required drop out age, the courts have no authority to force them to keep going to school. She noted a bill introduced in the 2011 Regular Session which would have increased the state drop out age did not pass. The Kentucky Bar Association should also be involved in the discussion of treatment of status offenders.
Judge Thomas said when status offenders enter the court system, counties bear the financial burden for their care and counties should be involved in the discussion of the issue. Deputy Commissioner Davis said the Department for Juvenile Justice is working on several pilot projects to offer 48-hour crisis care for status offenders, noting reductions in federal funding means states must use creative ideas to maximize limited resources.
Senator Stine suggested charter schools might offer a creative way to maximize limited state funding to reduce use of detention of status offenders. She noted Kentucky missed out on federal funding when it did not approve legislation authorizing charter schools and an open minded approach is needed.
Representative Jenkins said there is a need for law enforcement to document when children are witnesses to violence and domestic violence in the home, a small step toward reduction of violence in the home.
The next speaker was Robert Jones, Executive Director of Community Action Kentucky, an umbrella organization for Kentucky's 23 Community Action Centers. He said the statewide network of community action centers provide marriage counseling, parenting classes, GED classes, programs for students in crisis, and vocational training, and would like to expand their services to offer alternative programs to reduce detention of status offenders. Many courts are unaware of their programs. Community Action Kentucky would like to be included in the discussion of alternative programs for status offenders. In response to a request from Senator Jensen, he agreed to provide the committee with information about their services and locations in Kentucky.
Representative Flood acknowledged Patrick Yewell, Administrative Office of the Courts, and commended him for his dedication and hard work on behalf of court designated workers, who assist judges in determining solutions for status offenders. She thanked him for attending the meeting.
The next speaker was Daryl Baer, who urged the committee to examine the laws on bullying to prohibit victims of bullying in the schools from being charged with assault when they physically respond to the bully. He said bullying is a premeditated act and the schools are doing nothing about bullies, but are prosecuting children who are protecting themselves. His son was bullied in school, and the school system did nothing when the abuse was reported, but when his son responded to the bullying, he was charged with felony assault. The charge was reduced to a misdemeanor once the judge reviewed the circumstances, and he commended the judge for defending his child who was a victim of bullying. He has now been sued by the bully's parents. Mr. Baer also recommended school records be subject to expungement because information in those records can prevent a child from getting into college or receiving a scholarship, and there is no way to protect the child from inaccurate records. Senator Webb said she knew of a case where a bully continually bullied another child, but when the victim of the bullying responded, the victim was immediately lodged in secure detention while the school and the courts took no action against the bully. Senator Schickel thanked Mr. Baer for supporting the judge in his sonís case and said it is important to preserve judicial discretion.
The meeting adjourned at 12:10 p.m.