Academic journal article Journal of Law and Education

Chalk Talks- Continued Reform of Kentucky Juvenile Justice Following Senate Bill 200

Academic journal article Journal of Law and Education

Chalk Talks- Continued Reform of Kentucky Juvenile Justice Following Senate Bill 200

Article excerpt


Kentucky Senate Bill 200 overhauled the State's juvenile justice system after it was implemented in 2014. Although the Bill has been successful in many respects, the State's juvenile justice system is still in need of significant reform. Specifically, there is a shortage of adequate mental health care and access to specialized education for youth in juvenile justice facilities in the state of Kentucky. Last year, the Center for Children's Law and Policy visited and conducted inspections of 4 Kentucky secure detention centers. Their findings mirrored national concerns regarding poor mental health care and a lack of special education teachers within facilities who are equipped to teach students with a wide variety of learning disabilities.1

As of 2014, there were more than 2,500 juvenile justice residential facilities across the United States.2 Providing quality education to youth within the juvenile justice system is significantly more difficult than in public schools. Juvenile justice facilities face a myriad of challenges in providing adequate learning programs for students. Many of these challenges stem from the elevated percentage of the youth population who experience mental health issues and learning disabilities.3 To compound this issue, juvenile justice facilities face a severe shortage of mental health professionals who are equipped with the necessary training to assist students with a variety of mental health disorders, as well as a shortage of teachers who are adequately equipped to educate students with moderate to severe learning disabilities. Failure to adequately identify and specialize education for youth with mental health and learning disorders hinders their ability to succeed academically while in the juvenile justice system. As a result, reentry is made more difficult.4 After leaving secure care settings, up to 66% of youth do not return to school at all.5

There is a strong correlation between academic underachievement and interactions with the juvenile justice system among youth. The academic achievement level of adolescent aged delinquents rarely exceeds the elementary school level.6 This underscores the importance of improving educational outcomes among adjudicated youth. Improving education experiences within the juvenile justice system will help youth reintegrate into society and ultimately help to lower recidivism rates. Formal education has become increasingly important in modern society. The average income of people without and with only high school diplomas has steadily declined in relation to people with college diplomas.7,8 In light of the increasingly important value of higher education, meeting the individual needs of each youth within the juvenile justice system is essential to their reentry success.

Kentucky's Senate Bill 200 totally overhauled the Kentucky Juvenile Justice System. Specifically, the Bill attempted to limit the number of youths placed in juvenile detention centers, reducing the strain on the Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) and ultimately save the state money. Specifically, the Bill functioned to help keep youth out of the juvenile justice system altogether, seeking community-based alternatives to sending youth to state-run facilities.9 Making these changes allows youth to stay in their community instead of pulling them out of school altogether, improving their chances of completing their education while saving taxpayers a projected $24 million over the course of five years following implementation.10 Although the reforms have been successful, they have not solved the issue of the shortage of adequately trained mental health professionals within the states juvenile justice facilities.

Four specific facilities in Kentucky were visited by the Center for Children's Law and policy which produced detailed reports examining the facilities. These reports indicated several "areas of concern" within these facilities, specifically a lack of mental health professionals, and high employee turnover due to challenges faced by staff. …

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