FRANKFORT — A state task force that has spent months looking at the state’s juvenile code approved a final report Dec. 19, but is not making recommended changes to the code until the issue can be studied further.
Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, who is the House co-chair of the Task Force on the Unified Juvenile Code, said discussion about what changes should be made will likely continue after the 30-day regular session of the Kentucky General Assembly, which begins Jan. 8.
“This is not an area of the law, of course, with the creation of a task force, that we deemed an easy fix,” Tilley said today. “Even before we had our first meeting, we anticipated the reauthorization of this task force to move on into the interim after this short session.”
Tilley said continued discussion will allow more voices—including those of consultants, officials from out of state, and representatives from mental health agencies—to be heard.
Task Force reauthorization would have to be approved by the General Assembly during its legislative session.
The four top issues that have been discussed by the task force over the past several months include how to best deal with “status offenders” (children who have committed offenses that would not be considered crimes if committed by an adult), risk assessments, information sharing, and “financial mapping”—essentially tracking where the money goes. “Whether it relates to financial mapping or assessments, those pieces have not been done yet…in order to properly take what may be legislative action at the appropriate time, we have to have information from those two pieces,” Tilley said.
Kentucky Department for Community Based Services Commissioner Teresa James said any recommendations for a change in delivery of mental health care to children need to be made carefully so that “10 years from now, we’re not looking back and having regrets in the decisions that we made.”
As far as financial mapping goes, James said grant writing and other financial planning needs to be done with all stakeholders involved, including the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, Justice Cabinet, Department of Education, and others. A consultant who has done financial mapping work in states that include Wisconsin and Maine will be brought in early next year to assist in the effort, she said.
Task force member and veteran public defender Peter Schuler said he felt the report, which was approved by the task force later during the meeting, “does not reflect the work that we have done.” He then presented written proposals for the task force members’ consideration that he understood would not be brought up today for a vote. Tilley explained the proposals would be valuable as the discussion on amending the code moves forward.
“This is what the process should be about,” said Tilley. “We all want to do what’s best for these kids, and best for the system…. Those are all things we’ll discuss in the coming months.”
Task Force Senate Co-Chair and Senate President Pro-Tem Sen. Katie Stine, R-Southgate, said financial mapping is important to future reform. “I think… (financial mapping) is going to really create that super structure, that foundation, that we will then know how we can go about having a system whereby every avenue is utilized, (and the court system remains) that ultimate place where we go to finally have justice after we’ve tried everything else.”
Stine added that the courts must “maintain their discretion…” and be respected. “We are a nation of laws, and so we need to make sure that in everything we do, we respect the court system…” Stine said.