Don't jail non-criminals

Kentucky lawmakers and law enforcers correctly decided the state could no longer afford either the financial or human cost of being a national leader in imprisoning its citizens. Changes to the criminal code have led to early releases, reductions in penalties and more sentencing alternatives.

Considering that, it makes little sense to routinely jail juveniles who have not even committed crimes.

Kentucky jailed 1,541 young people in 2009 for status offenses, such as noncriminal misconduct, running away and not attending school, according to a report by Kentucky Youth Advocates.

That's one of the highest numbers in the nation, and cost the state $1 million in 2010.

At a meeting last week, the legislature's Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary committed to looking at ways to reduce such detentions through services and encouraging sentencing alternatives. Rep. Kelly Flood, D-Lexington, whose bill on the issues last year passed the House but did not get out of a Senate committee, plans to file a similar bill next year.

It should not be difficult to encourage judges to try to lessen the number of these juveniles detained. The challenge will be to better connect the courts to state services and community-based programs that address the root problems of troubled children and their families.

That would be a better use of the $1 million spent locking them up.