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Records, research and interviews with stakeholders in the juvenile justice system show that racial disparity occurs at nearly every decision point in Kentucky’s juvenile justice system. As juvenile detention center populations dwindle and fewer minor offenders are locked up, whites feel the benefit most. Youth lockups are becoming more black and brown.

State: We Can't Afford To Run Louisville's Juvenile Jail

The Juvenile Detention Center is located on West Jefferson Street in downtown Louisville.
Michelle Hanks
The Juvenile Detention Center is located on West Jefferson Street in downtown Louisville.

If Metro Council decides to remove funding to Louisville’s juvenile jail, the state does not have the resources to take over its operation, according to Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary John Tilley.

Tilley said the Department of Juvenile Justice will do everything it can to minimize the negative effects on youth and families if Louisville’s detention center closes at the end of the year, and it will assume responsibility for the housing of Louisville youth charged with criminal offenses and ordered detained by a judge.

But he said the agency’s only option would be to disperse Louisville youth to facilities throughout the state — an outcome that families and city officials have feared will make it harder for youth to see family and attorneys and get services.
(Related: " Proposed Budget Cuts Bring Fears About What’s Next For Louisville’s Jailed Youth")

“We want to keep Louisville youth at home. We want to continue this positive trend of detaining fewer and fewer youth throughout the state,” Tilley said. “But this is the fiscal reality.”

The Metro Council’s budget committee voted Thursday night to send a budget to the full council that will end funding to Louisville Youth Detention Services on Dec. 31. The cut was first proposed by Mayor Greg Fischer for a savings of roughly $2.4 million annually; the budget committee this week said the cut will save $1.3 million.

The projected savings from shifting Youth Detention Services to the state combined with other large cuts result in maintaining current library hours; creating an opportunity for preserving the Middletown library; keeping weekly yard waste and recycling while eliminating wet-dry recycling in the Central Business District; and reopening and funding maintenance of the Sun Valley and Algonquin pools in the summer of 2020.

Endora Davis, assistant director of Youth Detention Services, referred questions to Mayor Greg Fischer’s office, which didn’t respond to requests for comment Friday.

Bill Hollander, a Metro Council member and the budget committee chair, said he understood that the detention center’s closure would be a hardship for some families.

“We’ve heard from family members who visit people at youth detention regularly and don't know how they’ll be able to do that in the future. It’s clearly a cost to the family and the community,” Hollander said. “On the other hand, it’s a very expensive operation for a limited number of children and we’re making difficult decisions.”

State Budget May Have More Funding Available For Louisville

Tilley said taking over the existing facility isn’t feasible in terms of budget or staff. The agency’s budget is already set for the year, and besides, detention center workers elsewhere in the state make a lower wage than those in Louisville did. Turnover is roughly 124 percent at detention centers statewide, he said.

Despite low staffing, the state will look to absorb Louisville’s average of 30 to 40 detained youth in facilities in Adair, Boyd, Breathitt and Campbell counties. Tilley said he hopes McCracken County, more than 200 miles from Louisville, will be treated as a last resort.

Tilley said his agency has been working closely with the mayor’s office and will continue to look for solutions until the full Metro Council votes on Tuesday.

The Department of Juvenile Justice’s budget does have some untapped money, Tilley said: Louisville Youth Detention Services bills the state for reimbursement for services it provides to the city’s detained youth, and the department has $3.3 million a year allocated to Louisville. Each year, Tilley said, Louisville has averaged billing for about $1.9 million a year.

The Department of Juvenile Justice has met with representatives from youth detention as well as the mayor’s office and the council to make sure everyone understands they could maximize their billing. The cabinet's leadership has also made clear they are willing to renegotiate the department's contract with Louisville once the city's budget is passed.

But Tilley reiterated that the long-term solution is eliminating the need for juvenile facilities at all.
(Read: " Kentucky’s Complicated Struggle To Lock Up Fewer Kids On Minor Offenses")

Kentucky has reduced its incarcerated youth population by half since 2015, when the state passed a new law that kept low-level offenders out of lockup. As a result, the Department of Juvenile Justice has closed four facilities, with plans to close a fifth.

Tilley acknowledged that, if Louisville closes its juvenile jail, plans to close another state facility would likely be postponed.

Ryan Van Velzer contributed to this report. Contact Kate Howard at 502-814-6546 or khoward@kycir.org.

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