Education

Kentucky legislation would bar criminal charges against young children

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, chairman of the Kentucky Senate Judiciary Committee, has filed a bill that would not allow criminal charges against children younger than 12.
Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, chairman of the Kentucky Senate Judiciary Committee, has filed a bill that would not allow criminal charges against children younger than 12. File photo

Children younger than 12 could not be charged with a crime under a bill filed by state Sen. Whitney Westerfield, chairman of the Kentucky Senate Judiciary Committee.

In addition to establishing a minimum age of criminal responsibility, Senate Bill 220 calls for a child younger than 12 to be referred to the Cabinet for Health and Family Services for assessment and services by a family accountability, intervention and response team.

The legislation addresses an issue covered in a report released recently by Kentucky Youth Advocates, which said that between 2013 and 2015, formal complaints were filed in Kentucky courts against children as young as 4, 5 and 6 years old.

Kentucky law puts no limits on the age at which a child may be charged. Children younger than 10 generally don’t go to juvenile detention centers but are placed in state custody.

Establishing a minimum age of criminal responsibility demonstrates Kentucky’s commitment to addressing problem behavior in the most effective way, Westerfield has said.

Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, previously said his legislation does not mean that serious crimes committed by young children should be ignored.

In 2015, 192 children ages 10 and younger were charged in court; 332 11-year-olds were charged and 888 12-year-olds. Those numbers were down from 2013, according to a Kentucky Youth Advocates analysis of Administrative Office of the Courts data. The numbers of children ages 4, 5 and 6 who had complaints filed against them in court were small, but the fact that such cases existed at all was significant, Kentucky Youth Advocates officials have said.

The Kentucky Youth Advocates report said that the best solution for the future of Kentucky children and communities is to change state law to implement an appropriate, practical response to child behavior and not formally charge children ages 12 and younger in the court system.

The bill has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears

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