Increases in starting pay, new facilities planned for juvenile justice system

Mark Payne
Mark Payne
Mark Payne is the government and politics reporter for LINK nky. Email him at [email protected]

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On Thursday, Gov. Andy Beshear announced additional changes to the juvenile justice system after his administration came under heavy criticism for juvenile facilities in Kentucky that had issues with riots and understaffing. 

The new changes will raise the starting salary of Department of Juvenile Justice workers to $50,000 per year, raises for current staff, and the building of two new state-of-the-art facilities. 

“In the last several months, our juvenile detention centers have seen violent outbursts. This has threatened the safety of staff and residents and resulted in substantial property damage to some of our centers,” Beshear said.

Sen. Whitney Westerfield (R-Crofton) said the new proposal by Beshear would worsen morale in the system.

The new changes come on the heels of the governor ordering the Juvenile Justice Department to open a female-only detention center in Campbell County. Starting in December, all females between the ages of 11-18 would be housed in the Newport facility.

He also ordered males and females to be housed in separate facilities. The last change, which took place recently, is that male offenders 14 years and older, charged with a serious offense, are housed at one of three high-security detention centers in Adair, Fayette, or Warren counties.

Those changes, however, haven’t sat well with some lawmakers and law enforcement in Northern Kentucky, who say that the changes in Campbell County place a burden on law enforcement by forcing them to transport detainees hours away from home. 

Speaking on the Senate floor in early January, Northern Kentucky Sen. John Schickel (R-Union) raised concerns about changes to the juvenile justice system in the region.

“This is an unworkable situation,” Schickel said, elaborating that he recently sent a letter to Gov. Andy Beshear to consider the situation.  

Last week, Beshear said his administration will be working on changing the transportation plan, which includes doing what local law enforcement has always done when apprehending a juvenile. 

First, law enforcement will take a juvenile to a local facility — it’s unclear what that facility will be at this point. There will be a separate holding facility for the 48 hours when a juvenile will have their first hearing. Then the Department of Juvenile Justice, not local law enforcement, will transport them to the appropriate facility. 

“We are going to get to a point where there won’t be an impact on local law enforcement,” Beshear said.

Sen. Schickel said he’s grateful to the governor for the proposed changes. 

“That’s very practical because to be transporting people long distances before you even know what’s going to happen, I mean, it just doesn’t make any sense at all,” Schickel said.

It doesn’t change the aspect that a juvenile moved to a faraway facility will be cut off from their social network and family. 

“Cutting that juvenile off from its family and its connection with the community is a huge deal,” Schickel said. 

Here are the rest of the changes outlined in Gov. Beshear’s plan: 

  • Making substantial improvements to the physical facilities designed to enhance security.
  • Making defensive equipment available to DJJ’s youth workers who have had no equipment with which to defend themselves or youths when attacked.
  • Training DJJ staff concerning the use of defensive equipment and the identification of threat groups within detention centers.
  • Hiring a director of security who brings deep experience in operating secure facilities. That person is former Department of Corrections warden Larry Chandler as DJJ’s Director of Security.
  • Creating a Compliance Division to ensure that best practices are identified and followed.
  • Reorganizing the department by function to better manage detention facilities’ current challenges.
  • Procuring equipment and training personnel to better prevent the introduction of contraband into the facilities.
  • Making or requesting a wide array of legislative, regulatory, and policy changes designed to enhance the safety and security of DJJ facilities.
  • Rationalizing the detention footprint by initiating the process to construct two new, state-of-the-art facilities.

Related:  The Frankfort LINK: Gov. Andy Beshear gives his State of the Commonwealth Address

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