Magazine article Corrections Today

Getting Smart: Kentucky's "Smart on Juvenile Justice" Initiative Shows Early Success

Magazine article Corrections Today

Getting Smart: Kentucky's "Smart on Juvenile Justice" Initiative Shows Early Success

Article excerpt

For a long time, the state of Kentucky has been seeking the best way to utilize its juvenile justice system. Youths who committed minor offenses filled detention centers, which often didn't have enough resources to accommodate the youths' needs. Recently, however, all of this has begun to change. In just two years, the population of youths housed in Kentucky's juvenile detention centers, and other out-of-home placements, dropped by 40 percent. These improvements outpaced the predictions set during the passage of Senate Bill 200 (SB 200), a sweeping juvenile justice reform bill from 2014. While it's still early in the implementation process, the decline in that population exemplifies the positive results Kentucky already sees from SB 200, a transformative legislation which aimed to improve outcomes for youths involved in the juvenile justice system while maintaining public safety.

In 2013, Kentucky partnered with The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Crime and Justice Institute (CJI) to craft a legislative reform package that was passed in 2014. Later the same year, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention selected Kentucky as one of the first states to participate in its juvenile justice reform initiative: "Smart on Juvenile Justice: A Comprehensive Strategy to Juvenile Justice Reform." As part of the initiative, the state received training and technical assistance from CJI to support implementation of the reforms.

Successful outcomes

Kentucky has experienced early positive results following passage of the bill, including reductions in the number of commitments to state custody; increased access to diversion, a process that holds youths accountable without going through the formal court system; and reduced recidivism rates. SB 200 directly resulted in an out-of-home population decline and more successful diversions, which are detailed below.

Out-of-home population

The departments expected SB 200 to limit the number of youths placed in juvenile detention centers or other supervisory programs that remove them from their homes, and they projected the bill to reduce the Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice's (DJJ) out-of-home population by more than one-third by 2019. (1) Kentucky has already surpassed this projection with a 40-percent decline in the out-of-home population since 2014. Fewer youths committed for misdemeanors and violations of probation drive the reduction in this population (see Figure 1). (2)

Now, a higher proportion of commitments, or admissions, to state custody are reserved for more serious felony crimes. Kentucky has made significant progress toward meeting the goal of reserving its most expensive resources for youths charged with serious offenses or those who have significant prior histories with the justice system. In 2016, felony offenses made up 74 percent of DJJ commitments, compared to only 47 percent in 2012.

Diversion success rates

SB 200 mandated diversion for youths committing their first misdemeanor offense and expanded eligibility for diversion through the juvenile court rules. Diversion allows youths to be held accountable for their actions while minimizing formal involvement with the court system. Since the implementation of the reforms, the proportion of youths receiving diversion agreements rather than going through the court system has increased as intended (see Figure 2). (3)

Successful completion rates for youths referred to diversion remain high, and recidivism rates for youths who successfully complete diversion remain low. In 2015, more than 80 percent of youths with diversion agreements successfully completed diversion, and only one in four of that number reoffended within one year.

Kentucky's legislative reform

Prior to the reforms, Kentucky had not realized significant declines in the out-of-home population that other states had experienced. Kentucky's out-of-home population levels had been relatively stable since 2012, and they actually increased in 2013. …

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