Quick Takes

Lawmakers briefed on handling of sexual misconduct charges against juvenile justice staff

By: - October 12, 2023 2:56 pm

Kerry Harvey, secretary of Kentucky’s Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, speaks to a legislative committee. (Screenshot)

Since 2015, there were six cases in which Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice staff engaged in sexual misconduct or activity with a youth in the system, staff told the Legislative Oversight and Investigations Committee Thursday. 

The misconduct could include “sexual harassment” or “inappropriate sexual banter,”  Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary Kerry Harvey told lawmakers. 

Misconduct is “not necessarily some sort of contact offense,” he said.  

These investigations are only in reference to a staff member allegedly abusing or behaving inappropriately with a youth, including grooming. They do not include any misconduct between youth.  

Since 2015, 55 cases were investigated, Harvey told lawmakers. The yearly breakdown, he said, is:  

  • 2015: 15 reports with 0 substantiated
  • 2016: 8 reports with 1 substantiated
  • 2018: 7 reports with 0 substantiated
  • 2019: 7 reports with 1 substantiated
  • 2020: 6 reports with 0 substantiated
  • 2021: 4 reports with two substantiated 
  • 2022: 1 report with 0 substantiated
  • 2023: As of August, 4 reports with 1 substantiated

“Every time you have a case of this, it is obviously unacceptable, terrible” Harvey said. “It cannot happen and it is up to us to be as diligent as we can be to prevent it from happening.” 

Any witness to an alleged incident can call a 24/7 hotline and report it, said Ed Jewell, the special investigative manager with the Internal Investigative Branch of the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet. Staff will then investigate claims to determine if it is credible. If there is evidence the incident is criminal, he said, law enforcement are notified. 

The turnaround goal for investigations is 30 days, Jewell said. IIB staff are merit employees who investigate independently, Harvey said. 

Steve Potts, a special investigative agent with the branch, said some of the cases that aren’t substantiated lack evidence or are proved false from the beginning through video or other evidence. 

Kentucky also participates in the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), Department of Juvenile Justice Commissioner Vicki Reed said, which means staff undergo “extensive training.” 

“We also make it clear that even among the youth … there is no consensual conduct in detention,” Reed said. “That any is inappropriate.” 

This story may be updated. 

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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.

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