House approves juvenile justice overhaul bill

jcheves@herald-leader.comMarch 27, 2014 

FRANKFORT — The House voted 84 to 15 Thursday to approve Senate Bill 200, an overhaul of the state's juvenile justice system meant to jail fewer youths.

The bill, sponsored by Senate Judiciary Chairman Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, would encourage community-based alternatives for children younger than 18 who are charged with "status" offenses, such as skipping school or running away from home. Some judges now sentence such nonviolent offenders to detention centers, where they are jailed with youths who committed serious crimes.

SB 200 could save the state $25 million "over the next few years," House Judiciary Chairman John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, told the House before the vote. Also, the bill would require increased data collection on juvenile offenders and a state system to track juvenile recidivism rates.

Rep. Kevin Bratcher, R-Louisville, was one of several House members to oppose the bill. In a speech, Bratcher mentioned the violent crime spree involving teenagers last weekend in downtown Louisville and said the bill would soften the justice system's response to juvenile crime.

The bill now returns to the Senate, which must approve minor changes made in the House before sending it to Gov. Steve Beshear for his signature or veto.

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