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'We need to change with the times': Dept. of Juvenile Justice hires dozens more staff after 3 youth attacks within a week

Detained teenage boys in all three cases have been charged with assault. A correctional officer in one case required medical treatment.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Kentucky's Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) has pressed charges against detained teenage boys in three separate attacks inside two youth detention centers, just in the last week.

State leaders say there's been a cultural rise in violence among young people, and it's leading to injuries.

On March 9, in Adair County, security and Kentucky State Police troopers were attacked during "evening medicine distribution." Two teen boys have been charged with third-degree assault.

Then on March 11, inside the same facility, another teenager attacked a correctional officer, who used newly-equipped pepper spray to prevent injuries.

Finally, in Warren County, another juvenile struck a staffer "multiple times in the face."

Teenage boys in all three cases have been charged with assault. A correctional officer in one case required medical treatment.

It comes as DJJ awaits millions of dollars that could soon be headed their way to revamp the department. 

An amended version of House Bill 3, as of early Wednesday evening, is awaiting final approval by the full House before heading to the Governor's desk. It would also fund the reopening of the youth detention center in downtown Louisville.

Meanwhile, WHAS11 talked with DJJ leaders who say they'll take all the help they can get to fund newly-instituted raises for staff and improved training.

Secretary for the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Kerry Harvey has admitted the system needs an overhaul as soon as possible.

"I think our facilities are undoubtedly safer and more secure than they were six months ago, a year ago, five years ago. But we have a long way to go," Harvey said. "And I think the money found in these various bills flowing through the General Assembly is very important."

Harvey says newly purchased pepper spray and tasers for staff to protect themselves and other teenagers have helped "bring these incidents under control more quickly and with fewer injuries," but says more needs to be done.

We also talked with the man in charge of training security in these facilities, Division Director of Professional Development William Campbell.

"Directly, all of our training is pre-service, basic training, and we train to what policy says," Campbell said.

However, specific changes in this area weren't detailed, despite repeated questions from WHAS11 asking what, if any, adjustments have been made in training -- or the areas in which they'd like to improve upon to alleviate violent outbreaks.

"What we're looking at right now, and we've always done this, is looking at the nationwide trends," Campbell said. "And we're trying to maintain some semblance of annual updates by utilizing the best evidence-based practices that are out there."

As far as HB 3, opponents have voiced concerns with the bill, saying it doesn't protect teenagers or guarantee them the proper mental health treatment.

But supporters feel the state can't afford to wait to make changes to the system.

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