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Louisville juvenile facility would reopen under bill passed by Kentucky House

Representative Kevin Bratcher holds papers at desk during committee meeting.
Legislative Research Commission
Republican Rep. Kevin D. Bratcher, of Louisville, presents House Bill 3, a bill geared toward juvenile justice reform before the House Judiciary Committee.

The Kentucky House passed a $39 million measure that includes spending to improve facilities and boost staffing in the state’s troubled juvenile justice system.

Louisville’s youth detention facility would be renovated and reopened under a bill that passed out of the Kentucky House of Representatives Tuesday.

The $39 million measure includes spending to improve facilities and boost staffing in the state’s troubled juvenile justice system, at the same time it makes the system more punitive for youth offenders, raising alarms for advocates.

House Bill 3 would unseal criminal records of youth convicted of some violent crimes, including burglary, robbery or assault for three years, and require young people charged with those crimes to be held in jail for up to 48 hours before their cases are heard.

Rep. Kevin Bratcher, a Republican from Louisville and sponsor of the bill, said it would help make the state safer.

“What’s out there now is not working,” Bratcher said. “The chief of police of Louisville, and I’ve had chiefs of police all over this state tell me that juvenile crime is a problem. It’s a problem that needs to be solved.”

The bill comes amid scrutiny of Kentucky’s juvenile justice system, which has been beset by a series of assaults, escapes, riots and allegations of inappropriate force used on young people who are incarcerated there in recent years.

The measure would set aside $17 million to renovate the Jefferson County Youth Detention Center, which was shuddered in 2019 amid budget cuts. The state’s Juvenile Justice Department would operate the facility going forward, instead of Louisville Metro government.

It also would spend $9.6 million to boost staffing across the statewide juvenile justice agency, $5.8 million for transportation costs and $4.5 million to renovate a facility in Lyndon for young people convicted of low-level offenses.

Language in the bill directs the state to apply for a waiver to make incarcerated kids eligible for Medicaid, the federal health care program.

Several advocates took issue with provisions in the bill that would require the state to detain kids charged with crimes for up to 48 hours and unseal their criminal records if they are convicted.

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

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