Governor Steve Beshear's Communications Office
Gov. Beshear ceremonially signs juvenile justice law

Press Release Date:  Thursday, August 28, 2014  
Contact Information:  Kerri Richardson
Terry Sebastian

SB 200 steers more youthful offenders to treatment instead of detention

FRANKFORT, Ky. – Governor Steve Beshear today joined state and local leaders  to ceremonially sign legislation that revamps Kentucky’s juvenile justice system by steering more young offenders into community-based treatment instead of locking them up in detention centers.

Senate Bill 200 calls for early intervention programs and an enhanced pre-court process for youth who are habitual runaways or engage in certain non-violent acts, such as truancy.  Under the new law, before cases are referred to the county attorney, court designated workers will use evidence-based tools to screen and assess youth and make referrals for appropriate services.  The reforms are expected to reduce the number of status and public offenders entering the court system.

“Senate Bill 200 represents an important first step in addressing juvenile justice reform in our Commonwealth, and gives us the opportunity to address the underlying issues that are often the cause of young people acting out,” Gov. Beshear said.  “The result is less crime, smarter spending, and better outcomes for Kentucky’s most-troubled kids.”

The bill limits the commitment of certain lower-level offenders and how long they may be placed out-of-home, reserving longer placement in expensive out-of-home facilities for more serious offenders. 

The bill also establishes an oversight council, which will monitor the effectiveness of the policies and make recommendations based on the findings.  And it directs that any savings achieved from the reforms be reinvested into a fiscal incentive program for local evidence-based prevention programs.

The measure is the result of work by the bi-partisan Unified Juvenile Code Task Force with assistance from the Pew Charitable Trusts.  The task force met for two years with juvenile justice and social service workers, court officials, school officials and other stakeholders.

“In order to give hope to struggling kids and families, Senate Bill 200 brought together both parties and all three government branches in order to reform the juvenile justice system in an unprecedented way,” said Sen. Whitney Westerfield, of Hopkinsville, the bill’s sponsor.  “Now a nationwide legislative model, SB 200 achieves better outcomes for Kentucky’s youth, strengthens the role of the family, and gets a better return on the tax-payer’s investment. We all should be proud of this effort.”

“Senate Bill 200 builds on Kentucky's reputation as a national leader in enacting data-driven measures that better address the problems at hand while saving taxpayer dollars,” said Rep. John Tilley, of Hopkinsville. “I was proud to work on passing this legislation, which will give the justice system more opportunities to better address problems faced by troubled children and families.”

Senate Bill 200 seeks to improve the overall effectiveness of Kentucky’s juvenile justice system.

“This Senate Bill will transform DJJ into a data driven system which will advance positive youth outcomes and enhance public safety” said Bob Hayter, acting commissioner for the Department of Juvenile Justice.  “The bill places a greater emphasis on evidenced based practices and deeper family involvement, resulting in a triumph for Kentucky’s youth and our communities.”

“It has been well established that detention and incarceration do not provide for positive outcomes for youth. This legislation will facilitate early identification of children and youth in need of behavioral health services and keep them in our classrooms, not our courtrooms,” said Dr. Allen Brenzel, medical director for the Department for Behavioral Health Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities. “Creating community based teams will lead to positive supports for families and better outcomes for our children.  It is a great step forward for Kentucky.”

Chief Justice of Kentucky John D. Minton Jr. said he’s pleased that all three branches of government are working together for positive change. “In 2011, we collaborated on House Bill 463, which overhauled Kentucky’s penal code to reduce incarceration rates and improve public safety. And now we’ve come together on Senate Bill 200 to make long overdue improvements to our juvenile justice system. I appreciate the hard work of Deputy Chief Justice Mary C. Noble and the other members of the juvenile justice task force. Everyone benefits when we find common ground.”

Most reforms will take effect in the summer of 2015.