Friday, December 22, 2006

Another point of view about KY juvenile justice system

Juvenile justice bills would be a setback -
Changes bad for offenders, system
Williams, Geraldine. Lexington Herald-Leader, Feb. 27, 2006, pg. A7.

Three bills have been introduced in the state House of Representatives that would destroy Kentucky's excellent juvenile justice system.

Until 1995, the state had a very poor juvenile system that resulted in a federal civil action that gave Kentucky 180 days to implement the consent decree's provisions.

In 1996, the General Assembly passed the current juvenile code, the position of commissioner of juvenile justice was created and Kentucky became a model for other states.

That new Kentucky Unified Juvenile Code -- written by a lawyer, a social worker and a senator who worked in the system -- provided for the establishment of a Juvenile Justice Advisory Board, composed mostly of citizens.

The board applies for and manages federal money for prevention programs that help youth all over the state. The board ensures that all money spent is in compliance with state and federal regulations. Since 2002, Kentucky has received $2,346,572 from the Federal Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention Act of 1974.

But House Bill 351 would destroy the board's independence, erase Kentucky's influence in the federal arena regarding the plight of children all over the country, stop the federal money from coming to Kentucky, open children's court records and make it more difficult for attorneys to visit the children they represent in detention or to review their records. Policies regulating detention centers would be written in private and kept confidential.

The bill also would create a felony juvenile docket and make it more available to the public. This information is already available without the special docket, which will cost court more time and money.

The juvenile code revisions would open all court records of children to private, parochial and public schools without any provisions for the records' security or keeping them out of permanent school records.

House Bill 284 would create a new section of the juvenile code: "There is no minimum age for criminal responsibility for a child who commits an act which would be a crime if committed by an adult."

It further requires that the offending child and his family:
* Move at least 1,000 feet from the offended child.
* Have no contact with the offended child.
* Pay for treatment -- including medical, dental, psychological, psychiatric, counseling -- for the offended child.
* Pay for any damaged property belonging to the offended child.

Such issues should be decided by the courts.

House Bill 436 would open juvenile court hearings for felony sex crimes or a felony crime involving force or threat of force. The bill includes strict guidelines for closing the court to protect a victim or a child witness.

A code revision requiring notification of the commissioner of juvenile justice within 10 days of a court hearing would delay all court dockets and create more paperwork and consume more of the clerks' time.

These changes to the code would destroy Kentucky's excellent juvenile justice system. Our children need help and protection rather than detention as a first resort.

The proposed changes to the juvenile code would be a real setback for the most vulnerable children in Kentucky and would impede their educational opportunities and future job prospects.

Citizens who care about children in Kentucky should encourage their legislators to vote no on House Bills 351, 436 and 284.

Geraldine A. Williams is a member of the Citizen Foster Care Review Board and a former citizen member of the Juvenile Justice Advisory Board and a former court-appointed special advocate.


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