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'Gratified to hear progress': Youth detention center to reopen following issues with fire alarm system, staffing

The Department of Juvenile Justice has been making improvements to the facility, including upgrading the doors, locks and fire alarm system.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Jefferson County's only facility to house teenagers accused of crimes will reopen Tuesday, announced by Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear on Thursday.

The Jefferson Regional Juvenile Detention Center, located in Lyndon, has been closed since November after routine testing showed problems with the fire alarm system. Beshear said it was 'unsafe' for anyone housed there.

Now, Beshear says those issues have been fixed, and the building has been cleared for partial occupancy to house about 10 teenage boys.

"The Department of Juvenile Justice has been making improvements to the facility, including upgrades to doors, locks, fire alarm systems and the control center," he said in his Team Kentucky Update on Jan. 26.

It comes as the whole Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) is getting an overhaul: Splitting up teenagers based on offense level, increasing wages to hire more staff, and ordering defense equipment so they can protect themselves and other kids. 

Authorities have said detained teenagers are more violent now, compared to past years -- posing a threat to themselves, other teenagers and staff.

On Friday, WHAS11 talked with Lyndon Police Chief Grady Throneberry, who's heard there's been progress to improve safety. He spoke with the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary Kerry Harvey for updates.

"He told us that the staff had been increased, and that they had gone through some remedial training," Throneberry said. "I think the community can feel better about the whole situation."

Staff starting salaries have been raised to $50,000 per year, to address major shortages officials say contributed to violent outbreaks across the state. The DJJ says defense equipment like tasers and pepper spray have been ordered.

When the Jefferson County facility reopens, only boys younger than 14 years old or those who have been charged with lower-level offenses will be housed there. It will now primarily house teenage boys detained for crimes like theft, property damage or robbery without a weapon.

As directed by Beshear, the majority of detained girls are now being housed at the Campbell Regional Juvenile Detention Center in Newport.

"I'm confident in the Cabinet's attempts to upgrade the quality of personnel, to attract better people and more people," Throneberry said.

Beshear says they aim to get the other two living units at the Lyndon facility opened up, once upgrades are finished. That'll give the center the capacity to hold 30 teenage boys.

"So we've acted, and we will continue to act, we will continue to take steps to make this into a safe system where we can protect not only the youth, but our staff that have been assaulted numerous times," Beshear said.

The DJJ will also be looking to hire a new superintendent for the facility.

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