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Beshear administration asks lawmakers to fund more staff, security in juvenile justice system

Kentucky politicians are calling for an investigation into Department of Juvenile Justice facilities such as the Warren Regional Juvenile Detention Center.
Kentucky Dept. of Juvenile Justice
Kentucky officials are asking lawmakers for money to boost staffing and ramp up security at juvenile justice facilities around the state after a series of violent incidents.

Gov. Andy Beshear’s administration is calling on lawmakers to set aside $45.2 million to boost staffing and update security in Kentucky’s youth detention facilities after a series of violent incidents in recent years.

They’re also asking the legislature to pass a law banning the detention of kids charged with offenses like habitual truancy and running away.

State Budget Director John Hicks said the staffing shortage is a core problem in the system.

“You have to have the right amount of posts, the right amount of manpower there to control and contain these kinds of activities,” he said.

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear previously announced an increase in starting salaries for youth workers to $50,000 per year to solve the issue of chronic understaffing in the facilities.

Now the administration is asking for $18.9 million to sustain the pay increase, expand transportation services and pay for additional staff. They’re also calling for $26.3 million to fund facility upgrades like perimeter fencing and security posts at entrances.

Lawmakers have raised concerns about opening up the state budget to pay for the salary increases and other improvements.

But Hicks said the upgrades are necessary and would allow the state to move on from temporary solutions, like relying on state troopers to staff some facilities.

“Temporarily, we have the state police because of the low staffing just to be preventative to help and avoid these acts that have taken place. But we need to try and take the burden off our law enforcement with more security measures and funding for transportation,” he said.

Several riots took place at youth facilities in Boyd, McCracken and Warren counties in recent years. At the Adair Regional Juvenile Detention Center in November, a staff member was injured and a girl was sexually assaulted by another inmate.

In response, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear deployed Kentucky State Police troopers to be stationed at juvenile justice facilities in Fayette, Warren and Adair counties. He also required youths to be segregated by gender and separated based on severity of their offenses.

A workgroup of Republican lawmakers called on Beshear to overhaul the department’s leadership and launch an independent investigation of the agency.

Juvenile justice bill filed to retrofit Jefferson County detention center

Republican Rep. Kevin Bratcher filed a measure that would allocate $8.6 million to retrofit the Jefferson County Youth Detention Center, which was shuttered in 2019 amid budget cuts.

House Bill 3 would also require children charged with violent offenses like murder, arson or robbery to be held in custody up to 48 hours before a hearing.

Currently, juveniles accused of crimes are taken to the state-run Jefferson Regional Juvenile Detention Center in Lyndon before being transported to a facility in a different county.

Hicks said the bill doesn't present a sustainable solution.

“If the downtown facility in Jefferson County is renovated as per HB 3, we still see the need to have two sets of locations still that bifurcate kids based on offenses,” he said.

He said mandatorily detaining more kids would only add additional stress on detention facilities and workers.

“We might be able to build a facility but will we be able to staff it? Right now we don’t know how many more youth will be mandatorily detained in Kentucky in these facilities and whether we have the capacity, much less staffing to accommodate that,” he said.

Lawmakers will consider Bratcher’s bill during a committee hearing on Wednesday.

Support for this story was provided in part by the Jewish Heritage Fund.

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Divya is LPM's Race & Equity Reporter. Email Divya at dkarthikeyan@lpm.org.

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