N. Ky. locks up juveniles for non-criminal offenses

COVINGTON — Kenton County has locked up more juveniles for non-criminal offenses over the past eight years than any other county in the state.

Last year alone, 213 children were detained for behavior such as skipping school or running away, according to The Kentucky Enquirer.

Child advocates say that most of the state has worked to lower the number of detained youths, but an unusually high number are jailed in Northern Kentucky.

Campbell County locked up the third-highest number of children for non-criminal offenses in 2010, and Boone County ranked 13th.

The numbers have brought together a coalition of child advocates to address the problem. Joshua Crabtree, the managing attorney at the Children's Law Center in Covington, says the center is organizing a forum in September to discuss the issue.

Nancy Gannon Hornberger, executive director of Coalition for Juvenile Justice, a non-profit child-advocacy group in Washington, D.C., said it is unusual for counties to lock up so many youths for behavior that wouldn't be criminal if they were adults.

The numbers are even more striking when compared to the state's most populous county, Jefferson, which has a policy of not locking up children for non-criminal offenses. She said the approach there and in many other counties is to address the problem causing the bad behavior.

Crabtree said he hoped that the forum in Covington will help bring about change. He said family-court judges, school officials and child advocates will be invited.

The center is promoting several alternatives to incarceration, many of which are used in Jefferson County.

Some of those include requiring juveniles to join mentoring programs, participate in after-school programs, wear an electronic monitoring device, live in foster care or stay in a non-secure detention center such as a community shelter.

Tara Grieshop-Goodwin, deputy director of the Kentucky Youth Advocates, said national research has proven that detention isn't effective in curbing misbehavior.

"The scared-straight approach has been proven ineffective," Grieshop-Goodwin said.

Others are working on a statewide approach. Rep. Kelly Flood, D-Lexington, said she will reintroduce legislation to curtail locking up misbehaving children.