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Kentucky Putting Fewer Youths in Prison

Juvenile justice reform has led to fewer Kentucky kids incarcerated in youth prisons. (Pixabay)
Juvenile justice reform has led to fewer Kentucky kids incarcerated in youth prisons. (Pixabay)
October 25, 2016

FRANKFORT, Ky. - Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary John Tilley said putting kids in a prison cell is not the answer most of the time. He said he agrees with a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which makes the case for closing youth prisons across the country because they don't work.

As a state representative, Tilley was one of the architects of Kentucky's overhaul of its juvenile-justice system in 2014. He said the state has "safely reduced" its youth prison population nearly in half by focusing on community services.

"That is making sure that every youth that can be handled safely and appropriately in the community was getting that kind of treatment," he explained. "And, that's best for the kid, it's best for the family, it's best for the taxpayer, it is a win on all fronts."

Kentucky has ten regional youth prisons, known as youth development centers. Tilley agrees with the national report which shows that incarceration damages kids and recidivism rates range from 70 to 80 percent.

Annie E. Casey Foundation CEO and President Patrick McCarthy said that leads to all kinds of problems.

"You'll see high rates of unemployment, high rates of mental-health problems and substance-abuse problems, high rates of continued criminality, failure to form families going forward," McCarthy said. "These institutions have absolutely horrible track records in turning young people's lives around."

Tilley said while detention is "sometimes warranted," Kentucky has stopped incarcerating youths for small, technical violations and many nonviolent offenses.

"We're not detaining the kids that can be handled in the community, that's the big victory here," Tilley added. "We've got children who have gun charges and more serious crimes that are serving detention time. And to the extent that we can move those kids to better solutions, we'll look toward that as well."

The report shows that violent-abusive conditions were clearly documented after 1990 in Kentucky's youth prisons, but not since 2000.

Tilley said in the year he's been Justice Secretary, "We've very much focused on weeding out some who were neglectful in our system. We didn't see any outright abuse, and if we had we would have dealt with it harshly."

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY