Juvenile Justice Oversight Council holds first interim meeting


FRANKFORT ­­— The Kentucky General Assembly continues to monitor Kentucky’s juvenile justice system following the 2023 legislative session.

The Juvenile Justice Oversight Council held its first meeting of the 2023 interim period on Friday. The council is co-chaired by Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Fruit Hill, and Rep. Daniel Elliott, R-Danville. The other legislators on the council are Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Benton; Sen. Robin L. Webb, D-Grayson; Rep. Kevin D. Bratcher, R-Louisville; and Rep. Keturah Herron, D-Louisville.

The council also features 12 non-legislator members who represent different areas of the juvenile justice system and state government. A full list of the council’s members is available at https://legislature.ky.gov/Committees/Pages/Committee-Details.aspx?CommitteeRSN=414&CommitteeType=Statutory%20Committee

The Juvenile Justice Oversight Council is a statutory committee that will meet at least once a month in 2023 to provide an independent review of the state juvenile justice system and provide recommendations to the legislature, Elliott said. 

The council will actively review the implementation of all juvenile justice reforms enacted by the General Assembly, collect and review performance measurement data, and continue to review the juvenile justice system for changes that improve public safety, hold youth accountable, provide better outcomes for children and families, and control juvenile justice costs, Elliott added.

On Friday, the council heard an update on the Department of Juvenile Justice from Kerry Harvey, secretary of the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, and Department of Juvenile Justice Commissioner Vicki Reed. Harvey and Reed also serve on the council. 

In the 2023 legislative session, lawmakers approved legislation geared toward making Kentucky’s juvenile justice system safer for offenders and staff while also ensuring the physical and mental wellbeing of juvenile offenders in the system. 

House Bill 3 requires that juveniles charged with a violent felony offense be detained up to 48 hours pending a detention hearing with a judge, beginning July 1, 2024. The bill also seeks to improve parent accountability, expand mental health interventions and enhance options for restorative justice. Other provisions will reopen the Jefferson County Youth Detention Center.

Senate Bill 162 places all eight of Kentucky's juvenile detention centers under one office with a lead supervisor who reports directly the commissioner. Among many other changes, the bill seeks to increase staffing and training, enhance mental health interventions, and provide better segregation of violent offenders.

Harvey said the department is already working on implementing the new requirements. For example, detention center officers are now provided with pepper spray and tasers in the event of a violent incident. 

“I do want you to know that we take very seriously our obligation to implement the legislative changes that were made in this session,” Harvey said.

The council spent two hours discussing the many challenges facing Kentucky’s juvenile justice system. Lawmakers asked Harvey, Reed and other state officials to continue communicating with them on the needs of the department. 

“The relationship that we developed in working through these issues – the bills that passed – we need to build on that, and there needs to be a trust there,” Carroll said.

The next Juvenile Justice Oversight Council meeting will be a joint meeting with the Commission on Race and Access to Opportunity on June 20 at 1 p.m.

For more information, visit legislature.ky.gov.

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