Journal-Times (Grayson, KY)

March 19, 2014

Are some legislators smarter than experts?


March 19, 2014 —     Ready - shoot - aim. No good deed goes unpunished. There’s the right way, the wrong way and the Frankfort way.

    We could go on with pithy sayings about the strange happenings at the State Capitol when the Kentucky General Assembly is in session.

    The latest casualty of this year’s regular session is a key part of Senate Bill 200, a carefully-crafted, broadly supported effort to modernize Kentucky’s juvenile justice laws.

    The focus was on minor lawbreakers, the so-called “status offenders” who violate laws that don’t apply to adults, such as skipping school or running away from home.

    Months of work by a statewide task force was thrown out the window and, as a result, we will continue to put these youthful offenders in jail for status offenses.

    A few self-appointed experts in the Senate, backed by some hardnosed public school administrators who threaten truants with jail, convinced the Senate Judiciary Committee that it did not make sense to remove status offenders from courtrooms in favor of community service.

    Gone is the notion of working outside the legal system to find out why these teenagers don’t want to go to school, according to groups like the Kentucky Youth Advocates.

    Instead, we will continue to put about 1,000 of them each year into state-operated juvenile detention centers.

    Inmates at these centers wear uniforms and are kept in secure facilities but one senator opposing the bill insisted they are not jails.

    Truancy is the primary reason that our kids end up in court as status offenders.

    Poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, and homelessness by adults are said to be the most common reasons kids cut school and end up in court.

    Most states already have stopped jailing status offenders.

    On second thought, why not continue locking kids up? Look how well it’s worked with adults.