Resolution passes after appalling conditions at juvenile detention centers are exposed
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - On Friday, one issue managed to unite both parties on the Senate floor, that something must be done about Kentucky’s Juvenile Justice System.
Senate Resolution 31 passed by a unanimous vote, giving the green light for a committee to study and come up with possible solutions to the debacle at the state’s facilities.
“Young people not being fed, employees scared to go to work?” Senator David Givens of Greensburg said. “And communities questioning the ability of state government to provide basic functions.”
Dangerous conditions for the detained teens and employees were exposed in a series of exclusive WAVE Troubleshooter Investigations which began with the center in Lyndon before expanding to Adair County. Those reports included riots, assaults on teens and staff and an alleged rape of a female detainee by multiple men.
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Whistleblowers also spoke of teens not being fed as a form of punishment, not getting showers or an education and teens having sex.
The resolution will focus on some key points including staffing, policies and procedures, what went wrong and whether the juvenile detention center in Louisville should re-open.
The committee will be comprised of four members of the House, four members of the Senate and four non-voting members.
“Someone needs to be held accountable,” Givens said.
Other were more specific in their calls for accountability, directly talking about the department’s commissioner, Vicki Reed.
“No one was listening,” Senator Danny Carroll of Paducah said.
“She should know what’s going in the facilities and she had the power to change things,” he said. “To get things up to speed, that hasn’t happened.”
Numerous whistleblowers told WAVE Troubleshooters they sent tried to sound the alarm, sending emails up the chain which they told us were ignored, including Reed.
Some things like physical incidents were out-right covered up, the whistleblowers said, by changing the narratives on reports and falsifying information.
The Legislative Oversight and Investigations Committee held hearings on the issue as well, bringing in the department’s leaders to testify under oath. That committee is conducting its own investigation spearheaded by Representative Jason Nemus.
The teens were then removed from the facility in Lyndon and transferred to other centers across the state.
After the riot in Adair which resulted in one female teen allegedly being raped and an employee air lifted to a hospital in critical condition, Governor Andy Beshear announced the separation of female and male detainees.
He later announced his ideas for the re-structuring of how teens are kept in the state’s custody, like grouping detainees by level of offense in different facilities.
When asked by Troubleshooters about his confidence in the leadership of the Justice Cabinet, he stuck by Secretary Kerry Harvey.
A group of anonymous, concerned DJJ staff and retirees expressed their concerns with the changes.
“We urge all legislators to consider the spin coming from the Governor’s office,” they wrote to legislators. “We would submit that DJJ has provided no statistics or studies to support the claim that Kentucky juveniles are now more violent and/or gang affiliated than ten or even twenty years ago. We would submit that detained juveniles are more violent when they are abused mentally and physically by staff daily.”
They also voiced their support for the juvenile department of justice to no longer be administered by the governor’s Justice Cabinet.
“We support that a merger of DJJ in to the Kentucky Department of Corrections be thoroughly researched and considered. Indiana has a successful model that could be looked at,” the letter said.
The investigation by the Legislative Committee is ongoing.
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