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Advances in Juvenile Justice Reform | KY

Kentucky: 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 


  • Alternatives to Detention and Youth Prisons — Legislative Task Force Recommends Increased Community-Based Programming: Building on the work of a task force created in 2012 to study the Unified Juvenile Code (H.C.R. 129/Act No. 37), a 2013 task force in Kentucky studied issues related to youth who commit status offenses, alternatives to detention, reinvestment of savings from reduced use of facilities to create community-based treatment programs, and the feasibility of establishing an age of criminal responsibility, among other issues. The task force’s report, released December 19, 2013, found that Kentucky spends over half of its budget on secure and non-secure residential facilities; significant resources are spent on out-of-home placements for youth who commit status offenses; there is a lack of funding for community-based services and alternatives; and the majority of cases in the juvenile justice system are for lower-level offenses. The task force recommended expanding community-based services; focusing out-of-home placements on youth who commit more serious offenses, and reinvesting resulting savings in prevention and early intervention efforts; increasing the effectiveness of juvenile justice programs and services and improving oversight of reform implementation; and tracking performance measures. S.C.R. 35, signed into law March 14, 2013.

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  • Conditions of Confinement — Judge Finds Mandatory Strip Search of Youth Unconstitutional: A federal judge in Kentucky found mandatory strip searches of youth during intake at a Perry County, Kentucky juvenile facility to be unconstitutional. Facility policy required youth to strip in front of non-medical staff who then visually observed the youth’s nude body for signs of abuse, illness, tattoos, or other markings. The court held that the facility conducted the strip searches without any reasonable suspicion of illness, injury, or possession of contraband, and therefore violated the youth’s constitutional right to privacy. In its opinion, the court noted that strip searches of youth raise unique concerns due to youths’ vulnerability. Additionally, the court dismissed the facility employees’ claim of qualified immunity—citing clear legal precedent prohibiting strip searches without individualized reasonable suspicion of possession of contraband—thereby allowing the youth to pursue civil damages. State officials have since changed the policy and youth are now screened at intake while partially clothed. T.S. v. Gabbard, 860 F. Supp. 2d 384 (E.D. Ky. 2012).

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  • Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) — Certain Kentucky Schools Commit to End Disparate Discipline Practices: The Fayette County Public School System and the Kentucky Department of Education—facing claims of disparate discipline practices according to race and disability status of students—entered into settlement agreements in Fayette County (December 2010) and eight other school districts (fall 2011). The agreements include provisions to involve an outside consultant with expertise in Positive Behavior Intervention Strategies (PBIS), conduct district-wide training of all staff on PBIS, revise the districts’ codes of conduct, create compliance committees comprised of community members and school personnel, and regularly track and review data to establish progress. The agreements—coupled with cultural and racial bias training—are designed to end disparities in the district and reduce the flow of students out of schools and into courts. In May of 2011, attorneys with several advocacy organizations filed a similar complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights against the Jefferson County Public School District, the largest school district in Kentucky; the Office of Civil Rights is currently investigating these claims.
  • Status Offenses — Supreme Court Mandates Higher Scrutiny of Charging Process for Youth Facing Possible Prosecution for Status Offenses: On January 1, 2011, the Supreme Court of Kentucky adopted uniform Family Law Rules of Procedure and Practice to address the disparities and diversity that currently exist among the various local rules of practice within Kentucky’s courts. A segment of these rules impacts how status offenses are handled in the state. Court Designated Workers (CDWs)—who work for the court system and are the gatekeepers for all status and public offense charges—must now require school systems to provide complete documentation of interventions used to help students—especially those with educational disabilities—charged with status offenses. Likewise, parents who want to bring beyond-control charges against their children must establish for the CDW which community resources they have used to assist them with their children.;

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  • School-to-Prison Pipeline — Department of Education Rules in Favor of Youth Challenging School-to-Prison Pipeline: In two significant administrative decisions, the Kentucky Department of Education ruled in favor of youth challenging illegal discipline practices and failures to provide students with services critical to their ability to remain in school and succeed. The two cases involved the Fayette County Public School System (2010) and the Bullitt County Public School System (2009). Following these decisions, the Bullitt County Public School System agreed to settle a second suit in favor of another group of petitioners and to rectify their claims. The settlement agreement mandates that the Bullitt County School District conduct reviews consistent with the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to determine if a student’s misbehavior is a manifestation of his or her disability before charging the student with an offense in juvenile court or imposing school-based discipline; perform Functional Behavior Assessments on students who had persistent behavior difficulties; and evaluate students for special education services who had not previously been considered for such services when they exhibited difficulty in following school rules. The Fayette County Public School System subsequently challenged the decision of the Kentucky Department of Education in two lawsuits filed in Fayette Circuit Court, but the two circuit court judges dismissed the lawsuits.

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Photo: J. Stephen Conn, under Creative Commons License.