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Kentucky to open first female-only juvenile detention center to enhance safety of staff, youth

Officials say starting this month, females between 11 years old and 18 years old who are ordered by the courts to secure detention will be housed at the center.

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Thursday, Governor Andy Beshear announced he has ordered the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) to open a female-only detention center in Campbell County. 

A spokesperson for the Kentucky Justice & Public Safety Cabinet said starting this month, females between 11 and 18 years old, who are ordered by the courts to secure detention, will be housed at the DJJ Campbell Regional Juvenile Detention Center - with limited exceptions.

Located in Newport, officials said the detention center has 35 beds available.

The move comes in response to last month’s riot at a juvenile detention center in Adair County. In the wake of the riot, Kentucky State Police are investigating a reported sexual assault. 

The Kentucky Justice & Public Safety Cabinet said a juvenile seriously assaulted a staff member, took their keys and released other juveniles from their cells. The cabinet said the alleged victim was housed in a separate, secure wing. The victim has been transferred to another DJJ facility.  

“What we’ve also seen are crimes against our female juveniles that have occurred during some of these riots or violent encounters,” Beshear said Thursday. “While our female juveniles are in separate parts, and we attempt to make them secure parts of these facilities, that is not enough.” 

A spokesperson for the Justice & Public Safety Cabinet added that, in following state statute, women juveniles will be separated based on where they are in the process of their court case. 

In addition, officials say the youth will receive education, counseling, recreation opportunities, meals, snacks and health care.

“Our policies and laws that govern juvenile justice were created over 20 years ago. It is time positive changes are made to better respond to today’s needs,” Beshear said. “By separating female and male juveniles, we are enhancing the safety of our staff and youth in state custody."

Kentucky Representative Jason Nemes of Middletown applauded the move; he has been critical of the Jefferson Regional Juvenile Detention Center. 

In a hearing in October, he questioned the Justice Cabinet and Department of Juvenile Justice about the staff shortage it's facing. 

The hearing was held after a series of security threats on the center's campus, including fires.

The DJJ said it is experiencing a critical staff shortage.

Reverend David Snardon of Joshua Tabernacle Church in Russell neighborhood, said addressing this shortage has to be a priority.

"We have young people that are being put in these detained systems and they're coming out scarred," he said. "It causes a ripple effect throughout our community of heightened pain, trauma, and suffering."

Snardon spoke out after the riot in Adair County last month. He stood beside a Louisville mother who was scared because she said her son wasn't getting the care he needed after being sent to Adair.

Snardon says there should be a center in Louisville.

"Then there'll be other resources within the community that can help be a bridge and rehabilitation for those children as well," he said.

Nemes agrees, and wants one closer to downtown, not in Lyndon.

"I don't want them to retrofit this and put a lipstick on this pig," he said, "We need to have a facility that is adequate to the task. This one is not."

Officials with the Justice & Public Safety Cabinet say that the state is hiring 15 people to work at the Newport detention center to "safely protect the female juveniles and provide successful reentry skills." 

The jobs that are available include administrative specialists, social service clinicians and youth workers.

A spokesperson for the Justice & Public Safety Cabinet explained that youth workers are the "direct line" of care and are some of the "most needed and influential adults" in the lives of youth in residential placement.

They would oversee daily activities, maintain safety and security and assist youth with school and other pro-social activities, while teaching those around them positive social skills.

For more information about a job with DJJ, including pay rates and specific requirements for applicants, please visit the Kentucky Personnel’s Cabinet website.

Officials say the announcement to open a female-only detention center in Campbell County follows actions the administration has taken in recent times to support the DJJ.

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