Kansas juvenile justice needs reform, House panel is told

TOPEKA – Placing so many of the state’s juvenile offenders in detention facilities and group homes is costly and ineffective, a Kansas House panel heard this past week. A reform bill is on its way.

Rep. John Rubin, a Shawnee Republican and chairman of the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee, presented recommendations by a study group he co-chaired. They include diverting more low-level offenders from detention and into intensive supervision and eliminating placement in group homes.

Juvenile justice reform was among an array of issues that arose the first week of the Kansas Legislature’s 2016 session, including a gun proposal and a bill to prohibit LGBT discrimination.

Rubin told committee members Thursday that “out of home” placement — in county and state detention facilities and group homes — is costly and often isn’t needed to protect the public.

“Some of the decisions we make don’t have the best interests of the youth at heart — or are even in the best interest of public safety,” Rubin said.

Compared with a decade ago, the work group found, youth offenders in the state are cycling through more facilities, go missing from facilities at a higher rate and remain in out-of-home placements for longer periods.

Pamela Lachman with the Crime and Justice Institute and a member of the Pew Charitable Trusts team in Kansas, which provided data to the work group, told the committee that while the state’s juvenile case filings were down 42 percent from 2004 to 2014, out-of-home placements were down only 27 percent. Meanwhile, the proportion of misdemeanor cases to felony cases in juvenile correction custody increased.

Currently, she said, more than 100 youths in the state corrections system are AWOL. And 36 percent of youths placed in case management go AWOL at least once, up from 26 percent in 2006.

“We need to do the right things for these kids because I believe so many more of them can become good, productive citizens,” Rubin said.

“They can be more effectively treated and dealt with using effective community programs and probation supervision at much lower costs to the taxpayer and with better outcomes,” he said.

Rubin said adopting the work group’s recommendations would reduce the out-of-home juvenile population by an estimated 62 percent in five years and reduce costs over that time by $81 million. Those savings should be reinvested in community programs and treatment for juvenile offenders, he said.

See the full story in the Kansas City Star.

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