Juvenile justice bill passes House, would open some minors’ now-confidential records

By: - February 28, 2023 1:34 pm

Gov. Andy Beshear signed two juvenile justice bills. (Photo by Getty Images)

FRANKFORT —A Republican-backed bill that would reopen a juvenile detention center in Louisville passed the House 79-18 hours after it passed a House committee Tuesday morning. 

It may now go to the Senate for a vote.

Members of the House Standing Committee On Appropriations And Revenue voted 20-2 – with two passes – to advance House Bill 3 hours before it passed on the floor

The bill would hold parents more accountable in juvenile truancy cases and adds evaluation by mental health providers for kids in the system, sponsors told the committee. It also says juveniles who are accused of a violent felony offense “shall” be held in a secure juvenile detention facility for up to 48 hours, pending a detention hearing. 

Kevin Bratcher. (Photo by LRC Public Information)

Under HB3, the records of juveniles who confess to or are found guilty of violent crimes — like rape, murder or robbery — would be open for three years. If that youth doesn’t commit any other crimes during that period, the record would be closed, said primary sponsor Rep. Kevin Bratcher, R-Louisville. 

Still, that was a point with which several speakers against the bill took issue. 

Kish Cumi Price, the president and CEO of the Louisville Urban League, called it “penalizing them for their future.”

Marcie Timmerman, the executive director of Kentucky’s chapter of Mental Health of America, told legislators that granting broader “access to a child’s worst day” would be a mistake as “we do have a mental health crisis in our state and nation.” 

Representatives from the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy and the Catholic Conference of Kentucky also spoke against part of the bill before the committee Tuesday. They opposed what they called “mandatory detention” language in the bill. 

Representative Nima Kulkarni
Rep. Nima Kulkarni

Rep. Nima Kulkarni, D-Louisville, sponsored an amendment that would replace the bill’s mandatory detention requirement for some juveniles by leaving the decision with a judge, but the House did not hear it. 

Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser, R-Taylor Mill, sponsored amendments adding mental health evaluations for children. She told committee members she wanted a “framework for behavioral health therapy, mental health treatment” that would help in the long term. 

Youth in the system, she said, are “obviously in a situation where they’re involved in crime, in criminal activity. There’s always an underlying cause. And we want to make sure that these kids get an assessment for treatment or cognitive behavioral therapy or treatment for a substance use disorder.” 

The price tag 

The latest version of HB3 assigns more dollars to renovating and opening a Jefferson County facility. It would allot $17 million for that work, an increase from the previous $8.9 million to renovate and reopen a 40-bed Jefferson County Youth Detention Center.

The city of Louisville had long operated its own facility for juveniles in custody, but closed it in 2020 to save money, the Lantern previously reported

Louisville juveniles then entered the state-run system, which has been plagued by violence, unsafe conditions and understaffing. Republicans have blamed these issues on mismanagement by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s administration.

Work in progress

HB3 would allocate $2 million for operational costs associated with the facility, $5.8 million for transportation costs, and $9.6 million for Department of Juvenile Justice staffing needs.  

Ashley Spalding, the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy’s research director, said the version of HB3 that the House passed is an improvement on earlier drafts but still raises concerns. “In particular, the bill’s mandatory detention provision and the removal of juvenile record confidentiality would harm, not improve public safety.”

 “Study after study shows that rather than a reduction in crime, detention is associated with negative outcomes for kids and communities, including increased likelihood of recidivism. And removing confidentiality of records will affect kids as they attempt to move on from their mistakes and apply for higher education, workforce training, housing and employment.

 “On the floor today, House sponsors referred to the bill as a ‘work in progress’ and the Senate should continue to improve this bill, which provides necessary funding to open a facility in Jefferson County.”

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Sarah Ladd
Sarah Ladd

Sarah Ladd is a Louisville-based journalist from West Kentucky who's covered everything from crime to higher education. She spent nearly two years on the metro breaking news desk at The Courier Journal. In 2020, she started reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic and has covered health ever since. As the Kentucky Lantern's health reporter, she focuses on mental health, LGBTQ+ issues, children's welfare, COVID-19 and more.