Kentucky Politics

Children accused of violent crimes could be held for up to 48 hours under a bill that passed a state Senate committee on Monday. 

Republican sponsor Sen. Kevin Bratcher, of Louisville, says his bill is designed to address a rise in violent crime that has coincided with the pandemic. Juvenile justice advocates say the bill would jeopardize years of reforms. 

“This bill will also, and this is important, will also help good guys, like this guy to my right here, reach young folks and turn their lives around,” Bratcher said, referring to Louisville Metro Chief of Community Building Keith Talley. 

Speaking on behalf of Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer’s administration, Talley testified in favor of the bill Monday. Louisville saw a record number of homicides in 2021, a level of violence Talley called “unacceptable.”

Talley said holding children accused of serious felonies in detention could help act as an early intervention. 

 “What we are trying to do is to stop any retaliation and to de-escalate that situation as soon as possible,” he said. 

House Bill 318 would also change the confidentiality rules for certain juvenile court cases. If the defendant is found guilty of a violent crime, the case would be made public. It also establishes more rules for children and parents that have entered into diversion agreements, the terms of which must be fulfilled to have charges dropped. 

The bill passed on a 6-3 vote, but several lawmakers and advocates for juvenile justice reform remain skeptical. 

For one thing, Louisville Metro closed its youth detention services in 2019, so it’s not clear where children in the city would be held.

Republican Sen. Julie Raque Adams, of Louisville, decided to sit the vote out because of outstanding questions. 

“You know the juvenile detention center in Jefferson County has been closed. Where are we going to put these kids? How many of them is it actually going to impact?” she said. 

Following Monday’s vote, Kentucky Youth Advocates Executive Director Terry Brooks released a statement calling the proposal “wrong-headed.” Brooks said the bill would do nothing to address the rising rates of juvenile offenders and risks progress made in youth justice reforms.

“We call upon thoughtful lawmakers in both chambers to work with key stakeholders on meaningful, research-based efforts to prevent youth violence,” Brooks said. “And the first step towards that commitment is to reject HB 318 for its blatant political pandering rather than solution seeking.”

Back in 2014, the state passed Senate Bill 200, which included broad reforms to the juvenile justice system. It incentivized local efforts for treatment and early intervention programs and was designed to limit the time juveniles spent in detention facilities. 

HB 318 has already passed the House and now moves to the Senate floor. 

 

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.