Kansas proposed juvenile justice changes would incarcerate fewer youths; some counties express concern
TOPEKA — Kansas lawmakers are considering a bill that would dramatically overhaul the way juvenile offenders are handled, steering lower-level offenders away from juvenile detention centers and putting more emphasis on community-based intervention programs.
But it is already causing worry among some local officials who fear that, among other things, it will end up shifting the cost of juvenile corrections onto local taxpayers.
"This bill has divided folks locally in my district almost like none other that I have seen in my 10 years in office," said Sen. Jeff King, R-Independence.
The 110-page bill is the product of a six-month study by the Kansas Juvenile Justice Workgroup, a bipartisan group of lawmakers, judges, corrections officials and others who conducted what they called a top-to-bottom review of the state's current juvenile justice system.
Among other things, the group noted in its final report that Kansas incarcerates a high number of young offenders. And over a 10-year period from 2004 to 2013, juvenile arrest rates dropped more than 50 percent in Kansas, but the incarceration rate fell by only half that much.
It also found that most of the juveniles in out-of-home placements are there for relatively small crimes, and that the cost of keeping a juvenile in custody can run as high as $89,000 a year for each youth. That adds up to about $53 million a year, or roughly two-thirds of the Department of Corrections' juvenile services budget.
The bill would allow incarceration of only the most dangerous juvenile offenders, and it would place strict limits on the length of their incarceration and the length of time that courts can maintain jurisdiction over a juvenile
For juveniles convicted of lesser offenses, the bill calls on a supervision officer to develop an intervention plan, which would involve the juvenile, his or her family and in some cases the local school board and the Kansas Department for Children and Families.
It would also prohibit courts from putting juveniles who are out on probation back into state custody for mere technical violations of their probation. Instead, it calls for developing a graduated system of "evidence-based interventions" aimed at encouraging compliance with the court's instructions.
King said one of the concerns he hears most frequently is that the bill would essentially shift the cost of juvenile corrections onto the shoulders of local governments. But he said that is not the intention of the bill.
"The idea is to reinvest state resources into community corrections for juveniles," he said. "The idea isn't to put more responsibility onto the locals. The idea is to give more resources to the locals to help focus on community corrections."
Melody Pappan, director of juvenile community corrections for Cowley County in southeast Kansas, spoke in favor of the bill, saying youths in the current juvenile justice system aren't getting the services they need.
"Almost none of the juvenile justice group homes in Kansas provide services themselves," she said. "Youths are referred to the same publicly available services in the community regardless of whether they are on community supervision or placed out of home, and these services are generally not evidence-based for reducing reoffending or monitored for quality by the juvenile justice system," she said.
The Senate Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee has scheduled a full week of hearings on the bill. It could begin working on amendments next week and vote later in the session on whether to advance it to the full Senate.