Kentucky jails fewer children, but more than necessary, report says

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comFebruary 27, 2013 

The number of children jailed in Kentucky decreased 21 percent from 1997 to 2010, but Kentucky is still confining too many youths who aren't a risk to the public, an official from Kentucky Youth Advocates said in a release Wednesday.

Kentucky was below the national average for youths who were incarcerated in 2010, according to a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a Maryland-based private charitable foundation dedicated to helping disadvantaged children.

In 1997, Kentucky had 1,080 youths in confinement (a rate of 235 per 100,000 ages 10 to 17) compared with 852 in confinement (a rate of 186 per 100,000) in 2010, the report said.

Nationally, there were 105,055 youths in confinement in 1997 (a rate of 356 per 100,000 ages 10 to 17) compared with 70,792 in confinement (a rate of 225 per 100,000) in 2010.

In 2010, Kentucky had the 18th-lowest rate in the nation of jailing children, the Kentucky Youth Advocate's news release said. Tara Grieshop-Goodwin, chief policy officer at Kentucky Youth Advocates, praised Kentucky juvenile justice officials for reducing the number of children incarcerated, but she said there is more work to be done.

Grieshop-Goodwin said an analysis by her organization of data from the Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice and Louisville Metro Youth Detention Services shows that only 3.8 percent of youths who were locked up between 2007 and 2011 were confined for violent offenses such as homicide, aggravated assault, robbery or sexual assault.

This means that only a small number of confined youths pose a threat to community safety, she said.

In 2012, the Kentucky General Assembly created a Unified Juvenile Code Task Force, co-chaired by Sen. Katie Stine, R-Southgate, and Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville. The task force has begun to identify long-term ways to improve the juvenile justice system.

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, has filed Senate Concurrent Resolution 35 to reauthorize the task force for another year. The state Senate has passed the resolution and on Wednesday, it cleared the House Judiciary committee. The resolution now goes to the full House.

The task force has been studying alternatives to relying on incarceration and charging youths with misbehaviors that would not be considered crimes if they were adults.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409. Twitter: @vhspears.

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