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Kentucky governor signs bill marking sweeping changes to juvenile justice center

Nearly $20 million will be provided for assessments and the redesign of of the Jefferson County Youth Detention Center downtown.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Two bills aimed to improve Kentucky’s juvenile justice system have been signed into law.

Gov. Andy Beshear signed Senate Bill 162 and House Bill 3 on Monday.

House Bill 3 would provide nearly $20 million for assessments and the redesign of the Jefferson County Youth Detention Center in downtown Louisville which has not operated since 2019.

"No, that's not right," Kenya Wade told WHAS11. The masters-level social worker runs Cycle Breakers Breaking Chains in Louisville. She said, "at the end of the day these are youth, these are our children, these are not adults."

Wade's organization aims to help youth transitioning to adulthood through education and mentorship. It's a mission she started after her daughter experienced a shooting. "She wanted the young man who shot her, who is now deceased, to get help," Wade said, "she didn't want him to go to jail."

Moving forward, Wade said she hopes the new detention center is accompanied by resources for incarcerated youth.

Many of the youth from Jefferson County and surrounding counties have been housed at the juvenile facility in Lyndon since Metro Government requested the Department of Juvenile Justice take over the responsibility of detaining charged and committed juveniles.

Lawmakers say by having a centrally located facility downtown, it can help the DJJ better assist Metro Police and the judicial system.

Another provision of the bill is it would open up the court records of juveniles who admit to or are convicted of serious violent crime for a period of three years, down from a previous version of the bill which called for a period of five years.

"I think it is an important step forward," Mayor Craig Greenberg said. "Now we can work in partnership with the Governor's administration, with the state, so that we can provide youth throughout Louisville with the resources that they need."

“We told the General Assembly what was needed to better protect our juveniles and staff, and while these two bills don’t include everything needed, they do contain critical funding for staff, equipment and the work needed to renovate the downtown Louisville facility,” said Gov. Beshear in a statement. “Thank you to Sen. Danny Carroll for listening to our proposals and working with us to include about 70% of our needs. This is a good step forward and I appreciate the General Assembly for taking these steps.”

Funding was also part of the sweeping legislation.

Senate Bill 162 will appropriate about $25 million to the DJJ for salaries, security upgrades, transportation costs and programming including mental health resources.

Correctional officers at the Department of Corrections will also receive $30 million in funding to increase new and current correctional officer salaries which will start at $50,000 annually.

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