State Rep. John Tilley, who helped lead efforts to overhaul the state's criminal code in 2011, has introduced a resolution for a task force that would study Kentucky's juvenile code. "We could see something that ranges from a tune-up to an overhaul of laws that effect our children," Tilley said Friday.
Under HCR 129, the Unified Juvenile Code Task Force would study the feasibility of establishing an age of criminal responsibility, and whether to eliminate or modify status offenses and how offenders are treated.
Status offenses are not considered crimes and include running away, truancy and being beyond the control of parents and school officials.
Advocates in Kentucky have been concerned for years about the number of status offenders placed in detention. In Kentucky in 2010, there were 1,541 bookings of youth into juvenile detention facilities for status offenses, accounting for 18.5 percent of all young people who were incarcerated. Rep. Kelly Flood, D-Lexington, has introduced House Bill 61, which would no longer let status offenders be held in secure juvenile detention before their cases are heard in court.
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Top state juvenile justice and court officials have said that too many children younger than 11 are brought before judges in court. In 2009 and 2010, complaints were filed against at least 748 Kentucky children younger than 11 for offenses that included being out of control, minor injury assaults and criminal mischief.
State Rep. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville, has introduced House Bill 143, which would prohibit children younger than 11 from being charged with a criminal or status offense. They would be held accountable, but they would be viewed in court as dependent or neglected children.
School officials have reservations about both bills, and several other officials have asked to weigh in, Tilley said.
Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, said he isn't trying to postpone dealing with the issues by calling for a task force, but he wanted to make sure that something was done about the problems with Kentucky's juvenile code in case bills that have been introduced do not succeed.
Tilley said legislative changes for 2013 would be proposed using the same task force process implemented to overhaul Kentucky's criminal code. The task force, co-chaired by the heads of the state senate and house judiciary committees, would submit a report to the Legislative Research Commission by Nov. 1.
The task force proposal must be approved by the House judiciary committee to move forward.