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Judges call for reopening Louisville's juvenile detention center to curb violence

The sole holding facility in Louisville has only 16 beds, so many detained youth are bussed hours away from family members as they await trial.

Two chief judges in Jefferson County want Louisville's juvenile detention center reopened, but some activists don't think locking kids up will reduce the city's rising crime rate. 

To save money, Louisville Metro's Juvenile Detention Center closed in 2019. 

There is a small youth day treatment facility in Jefferson County, the Audubon Youth Development Center which is located about 10 miles east of downtown, but there are only 16 beds. 

Now, detained youth are bussed hours away, which judges say makes it tough for a family to visit and impossible to grant school or work release.

That's why they'd like to see the downtown location open again. 

"We're talking about a place where 40 kids can be with their families and their schools and their community," Jefferson Chief Circuit Judge Angela McCormick Bisig said. "They saved money shutting the center down, but again, it's the very definition of penny-wise and pound-foolish."

Jefferson Chief District Judge Annette Karem said the city needs to support these kids and put them on the right path.

"I'm not saying they're all innocent," Karem said. "That's not the point. The point is, let's keep them from making the same mistakes that put them into the adult jail, and that begins by bringing them back to Jefferson County."

Christopher 2X, executive director of Game Changers, said if the facility does reopen, there need to be changes and more focus on providing services. 

"These problems don't start when a kid gets put into a juvenile detention situation," 2X said. He said the majority of young people involved in violence are between the ages of 13 and 17, so intervention methods need to start earlier.

"We have to look at these behavioral problems as early as childhood education spaces, K-8," he said.

Sadiqa Reynolds, president and CEO of the Louisville Urban League, said aside from detaining youth who commit the most heinous crimes, putting the kids in a detention facility isn't the way to reduce crime in Louisville. 

Reynolds said the focus needs to be on creating opportunities and programs to help lift up the city's youth. 

"We cannot simply say, 'because we see an increase in crime here, it means let's do this easy fix,'" Reynolds said. "I appreciate the urgency and again, want to live in a safe community, but I think that the way to do that is to invest in job training. To make sure that we really do have opportunities for young people."

There are still many discussions to be had in the community about whether or not the detention center should reopen. One of the biggest questions yet to be answered relates to funding since that was one of the primary reasons the facility shut down in the first place.

Last week, Louisville Metro Council approved the creation of a 'youth transfer processing center,' where kids in custody can wait, supervised, until a judge determines the next steps. While the center doesn't replace a detention facility, it's intended to help free up officers to focus on their patrols.

Contact reporter Rachel Droze at rdroze@whas11.com. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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