Kentucky’s incarceration rate for youth has decreased in the past several years—but not by as much as the national average, said an Annie E. Casey Foundation report released Wednesday.
And Kentucky and two other states are responsible for 60 percent of the nation’s juvenile incarcerations because of court order violations for status offenses—crimes applied to youth such as truancy and alcohol consumption.
The annual report, released through Kentucky Youth Advocates, states that Kentucky’s youth incarceration rate decreased 21 percent between 1997 and 2010; the nation’s incarceration rate has decreased 37 percent during the same time period. Those gains are welcomed by KYA officials, but they also say more need to be done—specifically with the population being incarcerated.
“Of all the kids that are locked up in our state in 2011, about one out of every six was there for something like running away, or missing school and things that wouldn’t be crimes if they were adults,” said Tara Grieshop-Goodwin, KYA’s chief policy officer.
Kentucky had the 18th lowest rate for locking up kids in 2010, she said. But analysis by KYA shows only 3.8 percent of youth during 2007 to 2011 were for incarcerated for violent offenses.
“We do need to hold kids accountable for their behaviors, but we need to be smart about that. What the research shows is incarceration can actually have the opposite impact of what we’re looking for, which is to get the youth on track to become productive citizens,” Grieshop-Goodwin said.
The Annie E. Casey report provides recommendations and also point to states such as Ohio and Illinois that “successfully pioneered approaches that incentivize community-based alternatives to confinement.”
Kentucky’s conversations on juvenile justice has been making progress, Grieshop-Goodwin said .
Last year, the General Assembly created a Unified Juvenile Justice Task Force. This year, state Sen. Whitney Westerfield, a Hopkinsville Republican, filed a resolution reauthorizing the task force in order for it to continue its work.
Officials also point to a program being piloted by Campbell District Judge Karen Thomas, which attempts to keep status offenders under 10 years old out of the juvenile justice system.