The report released this week, Ending the Use of Incarceration for Status Offenders in Kentucky, shows nearly one in every six incarcerated youths under age 18 is jailed for low priority offenses. The data comes from the Department of Juvenile Justice.
Kentucky is among the top three states accounting for 60 percent of incarcerations nationwide for status offenses, or lower level crimes, but the state’s numbers have declined recently, according to the report. Since 2007 the number of young status offenders in the state has dropped about 40 percent, according to the report. There were 1,335 Kentucky cases last year where juveniles were incarcerated.
KYA Executive Director Terry Brooks said status offenses include running away from home or purchasing alcohol with a fake ID, but too often such offenders are put into cells with more dangerous criminals, he said.
“One of the things that we know that happens now is that status offenders are put in cells with young people who have committed violent offenses,” he said.
“You’re not hearing us talk about being soft so to speak on kids that have committed violent crimes, who have committed adult level criminal activity. It’s so important that folks understand that status offenses are a whole other category.”
This past legislative session the Kentucky General Assembly passed a law with overwhelming support that created a task force to study the juvenile justice code. It has an emphasis on looking at how the state treats status offenders. The move is also partly to cut costs.
The idea behind the task force is to organize legislation that could eventually be presented and passed by the General Assembly. This year there was an attempt to retool certain parts of the juvenile justice system but nothing substantial passed. Next year may be different, said state representative Kelly Flood, D-Lexington, who introduced legislation last session to ease restrictions on young status offenders.
“I think there’s a real shot at it, I really do,” she said.
The report further says putting money toward services like after school programs could benefit the community more than incarceration.