Already, youth who are kept at Louisville’s juvenile detention center ahead of their trials are separated from their families. But by virtue of usually being close to home, it’s relatively easy for their relatives — and their legal representation — to visit.
Under a tentative plan released released last week by state and city officials, the state will take over incarcerated youth on Jan. 1, 2020, after funding allocated by Louisville Metro for a local, city-run facility runs out. Those kids will be transferred to detention centers, probably in Campbell or Warren counties.
That could make it a lot harder for them to access their support systems in the critical period before a judge decides whether they are to be committed to serve time, said Louisville attorney Karen Faulkner, who has represented youth detained downtown.
“If you’re paying someone for a ride, or paying for a cab, or even taking the bus, to be able to continue to do that on a consistent basis for a youth that is extremely far away, is going to be nearly impossible,” Faulkner said.
While some Louisville parents currently fight traffic to get to their kids downtown, others rely on public transit to make their visits. Getting to the centers in Warren County and Campbell County would include a Greyhound trip lasting about two hours each way.
Faulkner said such logistical barriers to frequent visits are likely to affect youth emotionally, especially those facing long stays. She said the distance could also impede access to youths’ attorneys. Right now, the Jefferson County Public Defender is across the street.
“There might be attorneys who would look at not wanting to drive all the way out,” Faulkner said. “And certainly there would be attorneys who might take cases and then not be able to carve out that extra time in order to go, you know, spend four hours every time they they want to have a contact.”
Public officials are looking to set up a free video conferencing service for youth to communicate with family members and attorneys. Faulker described that as a “consolation prize,” better than nothing, given that driving to see an incarcerated youth in person could soon take more than an hour one way.
But Faulkner emphasized that face-to-face contact is essential leading up to a trial.
“We’re not these children’s parents, we’re not these children’s family, but yet we’re telling them that they have to trust us and our opinion,” she said.
The ability to get to know the child she’s representing, and to gain that child’s trust, is important to presenting an adequate defense in court, Faulkner said.
Logistics aside, Faulkner said cutting youths off from their support systems could lead to worse outcomes. She said the goal of the juvenile code is to keep those connections in place to kids up for success when they leave incarceration.
“To cut off their connection to the outside world and to, really, their strength base, their family, their community, their support is going to have lasting detrimental effects on them,” Faulkner said.
Funding for youth detention services will run out at the end of 2019. There are currently 42 youth held at the Louisville facility, and there is no state-run option for holding them long-term in Jefferson County.