Call to Order and Roll Call
The3rd meeting of the Task Force on the Unified Juvenile Code was held on Wednesday, September 26, 2012, at 1:00 PM, in Room 171 of the Capitol Annex. Representative John Tilley, 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, Teresa James, Lisa P. Jones, Robert D. Neace, Pamela Priddy, Peter Schuler, and Steve Trimble.
Guests: Shannon Stiglitz and Teresa Combs, Kentucky School Board Association; Bo Matthews, Barren County School System; Denise Perry, Henry County School System; Ronnie Nolan, Kentucky Educational Collaborative for State Agency Children; Mike O’Connell, Jefferson County Attorney; Cameron Blau, Campbell County Attorney; Eric Wright, Jessamine County Attorney; Colonel Spike Jones, City of Covington; Marissa Castellanos, Catholic Charities, Gretchen Hunt and Marylee Underwood, Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs, Vince Robison, Louisville Metro Police, Clyde Caudill, Kentucky Association of School Administrators; Mary Ritchie, Women’s Crisis Center-Northern Kentucky.
The minutes of the August 23, 2012 meeting were approved without objection.
Mr. Schuler told the members about the recent passing of Gail Robinson, a long time advocate for children, who was very interested in juvenile law and criminal law, and asked for a moment of silence in her honor.
Education and juvenile code concerns
Shannon Stiglitz, Kentucky School Boards Association (KSBA), and speaking on behalf of the Kentucky Association of School Administrators and Kentucky Association of School Superintendents, thanked the members for including KSBA in the discussion of revisions to the juvenile code. Appearing with her were Denise Perry, Director of Pupil Personnel, Henry County School System, Teresa Combs, Director of Administrative and Legal Training Services, Kentucky School Boards Association, and Bo Matthews, Superintendent, Barren County School System.
Ms. Perry said the priority of educators and school administrators is to keep children in school and educate them in a safe environment. Students who are out of control adversely impact all other students in the classroom, making it more difficult for them to get an education. She discussed the steps taken by school systems to address habitual truancy, including parental notification and interventions with school counselors and family resource officers. She said the school system does everything they can to resolve problems before filing truancy charges against the student.
Bo Matthews, Superintendent, Barren County School System, told the members he would like to see a stronger partnership between the education system and the Department of Community Based Services (DCBS), so issues can be resolved before the matter goes before the judicial system. He suggested revising KRS Chapter 159 to include virtual learning opportunities and specify the remedies available to school systems when at risk students who participate in virtual learning do not follow their course work. He discussed the Bavil Academy in Barren County, a virtual learning program that has been very successful in meeting the educational needs of at risk students outside the classroom. The Academy offers virtual learning programs from general education credits to advanced placement courses for students in systems that may not offer all classes in their curriculum. At risk students who participate in virtual learning have done very well on their ACT examinations. In response to a question from Ms. Priddy, Mr. Matthews agreed to provide the members with the number of at risk children attending Bavil Academy. Mr. Matthews said virtual learning programs are not the best fit for all at risk students, but they offer another tool for schools to offer students who are ready to drop out of school.
Other recommendations included increased parental accountability for at risk students and limitations on home schooling for students with truancy problems to get around a court order to attend school. He said if diversion programs are successful, the education system will support their expansion, but they need to be adequately funded by the state.
Ms. Combs said there is nothing in the statutes to force parents to comply with orders from school systems about truant children, which needs to be addressed. She suggested an enabling statute relating to federal FERPA law to allow sharing of student records between the schools and courts. It takes a court order to share information today, and many times parents will not sign the consent form. Non-compliance with FERPA can endanger federal education funding. She said the necessary language was contained in Representative Flood’s 2012 legislation that did not pass.
Commissioner James said DCBS is hampered by federal HIPPA law relating to the sharing of student information. She welcomed the opportunity to be involved in developing language to address both HIPPA and FERPA restrictions. Ms. Combs also urged the task force to retain judicial discretion, including secure detention as a last resort, and agreed there should be better parental accountability.
Mr. Schuler was concerned about the recommendations for judicial discretion in truancy cases. He suggested strengthening the neglect and dependency statutes, which might be a better option for schools. Ms. Perry responded that schools must file truancy charges before they can pursue educational neglect against parents who do not comply.
In conclusion, the presenters recommended: (1) increased funding for alternative interventions for at risk students charged with status offenses; (2) that DCBS become more involved in early interventions; and (3) increased limitations on home schooling of status offenders to circumvent court orders. They urged court designated workers to connect student and families with intervention services. These suggestions will help school systems keep children in school until graduation.
Senator Stine was concerned that children and parents are ignoring court orders to attend school. She said there is a generation of children who do not respect the judicial system. Commissioner Davis said many children do not learn respect and obedience at home. Schools are charged not only with educating children but also teaching basic values and good citizenship. Any revisions to the juvenile code must address the needs of the entire family and not be limited to the needs of the juvenile. After a child enters the Department of Juvenile Justice system, the chance for success falls dramatically, so it is very important to develop a system of early intervention to help the child succeed in school and become a good citizen.
Senator Stine assumed the chair at 2:40 p.m.
Ronnie Nolan, Kentucky Educational Collaborative for State Agency Children (KECSAC), discussed Kentucky’s system of educating state agency children (SAC). These children are referred to KECSAC by the Department of Education, Department of Juvenile Justice, Department of Community Based Services, and the Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities. KECSAC provides residential and community based services to 13,700 children annually, offering 98 programs in 53 school districts, with an annual budget of $9.5 million. KECSAC programs have a longer school year and a smaller teacher to student ratio. Children are educated in non-traditional settings including group homes, juvenile justice detention centers, mental health day treatment programs, residential treatment programs, community based shelter programs and hospital settings. Many state agency children are below grade level in reading and math and may have learning disabilities. KECSAC recommendations include increasing transition services for children returning to their home schools, improving assessments of children before and after referral to SAC programs, increasing access to virtual learning programs, especially in the Department of Juvenile Justice residential programs, and consistency in graduation requirements for state agency children.
Prosecutors and juvenile code concerns
Mike O’Connell, Jefferson County Attorney, discussed confidentiality of juvenile records and suggested opening juvenile court hearings under certain circumstances. Kentucky is one of 13 states with closed juvenile courts, while 37 states have open juvenile courts under specific circumstances. Opening juvenile courts to an acceptable degree of public scrutiny will benefit the victim, the public, and the courts, and balance the rights of the juvenile and public safety. Revising KRS 610.070 will insure accountability of judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys, and alert the community to the presence of juveniles who commit violent crimes. He also suggested revising KRS 610.320, relating to juvenile records, to allow access to those records under specific conditions. He will propose legislation for consideration by the 2013 General Assembly to open juvenile court hearings and records. He urged the task force to consider his suggestions in its final report and recommendations.
Mr. Schuler was concerned about opening juvenile court hearings and juvenile records. He said identifying offenders and their victims takes away the juvenile’s right to protection under the law, which was designed to give juvenile offenders a second chance. Mr. O’Connell said opening juvenile court proceedings will promote public confidence and let the public know about juveniles who commit crimes in their communities.
Eric Wright, Juvenile Prosecutor, Jessamine County Attorney’s Office, agreed the task force should consider opening juvenile court hearings. He also supported retaining judicial discretion for detention of juvenile status offenders because the threat of jail is sometimes the best and last option to keep children in school. In Jessamine County, where parents and children understand violation of a court order can lead to detention, school attendance is improving. He also suggested the task force review the abuse, neglect, and dependency statutes to ensure the best interest of the child is always considered.
Cameron Blau, Chief Assistant Campbell County Attorney, was concerned that teachers and administrators will have no way to deal with disruptive students if changes to the juvenile code go too far. It is a balancing issue to protect teachers and other students who are entitled to an education in a safe environment. He urged the task force to develop a system of early interventions to determine the root cause of an at risk student’s behavior or truancy problems. Confidentiality of juvenile records is a problem for the courts because judges cannot see the entire record, and the courts should have judicial discretion for detention as a last resort.
Senator Stine told the task force representatives of the teachers unions were invited to testify, but scheduling conflicts prevented them from appearing.
Law enforcement and juvenile code concerns
Spike Jones, Covington Chief of Police, said there has been a marked increase in heroin use in Northern Kentucky, possibly the result of tighter controls on prescription drugs. Heroin is less expensive and more accessible, more juveniles may begin selling heroin to support their drug habits and to obtain income. Transporting juvenile offenders can tie up an officer for three to four hours, which is difficult for law enforcement agencies that have fewer officers due to budget cuts. He suggested officers be allowed to drop off juveniles offenders at detention centers and turn them over to court designated workers and the judicial system.
Commissioner Davis said many status offenders are in juvenile detention facilities for violating a court order, without committing an actual crime. While it is contemptuous behavior, it is not criminal behavior. These may involve such charges as skipping school or missing curfew, and can result in juvenile detention for 90 days. He said spending time in the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) system greatly increases chances of a juvenile reoffending or committing a more serious offense. All juvenile offenders in the DJJ system are treated as if they have committed serious crimes, not simply skipping school or violating a curfew.
Marylee Underwood, Kentucky Domestic Violence Association, and Mary Ritchie, Women’s Crisis Center of Northern Kentucky, discussed human trafficking and juvenile status offenders. Ms. Underwood said young runaways may be kidnapped and forced into prostitution, and then be arrested and treated the same as other juvenile status offenders. She recommended that these juveniles be referred to child protective services instead of the juvenile justice system. She said Kentucky needs to develop a system of care and services for children who are forced into prostitution.
Senator Stine announced the next task force meeting will be October 25. The meeting adjourned at 4:20 p.m.