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'An intervention opportunity': Louisville set to open youth assessment center for teens involved in crime

Metro Council first allotted $3 million in ARP funds to the project in Nov. 2021. Community leaders like the move, as a better option for both the youth and LMPD.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville will soon have a new designated facility for the city's teens involved in crime, filling a gap left for years since the 2019 closing of the Youth Detention Center.

But the city's Youth Transitional Services (YTS) department believes this program will see better results.

At a Metro Council Budget Committee meeting Thursday evening, Director Endora Davis announced a new screening center will open on May 29, to hold and assess minors as many of them await a judge to determine next steps. It'll use the same building downtown that was once the juvenile jail.

Davis said since the jail closed, there hasn't been a space allotted for law enforcement to bring the youth. She called the new center a 'safe space' to receive services as they await the court process.

"We will be able to provide those children with food if they're hungry, and they'll have a place to go to the restroom," Davis said.

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Davis said police officers will no longer need to have teenagers in their custody for several hours at a time while waiting for a judge's order, freeing them up to be back on patrol. And teens will be placed into the care of court designated workers better trained to evaluate their individual needs.

Community leaders like the move, calling it a mutually beneficial option.

"You have a larger number of kids who are both being victimized and victimizing people, so you have to have an intervention opportunity to save their lives and others," said Yvette Gentry, the former Youth Detention Facility director and former Interim Chief at Louisville Metro Police (LMPD).

Gentry said in many cases, minors finding themselves in trouble need a place to go -- even temporarily -- to get away from danger. She said the new transitional center is a step in the right direction.

"We got to keep them alive to even have an opportunity to educate them and train them," Gentry said.

The plan is for juveniles to get a medical evaluation soon after they're dropped off by police, in order to dictate next steps. Davis said she has a staff of 24 workers ready to go, including eight sworn court process officers and nine officers to handle transportation.

Listening in on the Budget Committee meeting, Councilwoman Nicole George (D-21) said the move addresses a need in the community, but also hopes the center takes advantage of an opportunity for intervention.

RELATED: LMPD arrests, charges 17-year-old suspect

"It could be everything from resume building, something that keeps young people out of trouble, to of course trauma-informed care," she said.

Terry Brooks, executive director for the Kentucky Youth Advocates, called the screening center a 'win-win,' but also wants it to be a building block for more services available for disadvantaged youth.

"We can use that moment to interact with families, that young person, and think about mental and behavioral health supports," Brooks said.

Metro Council first allotted $3 million in ARP funds to the project in Nov. 2021, set to last three years. YTS said renovations have been made to the facility to meet needs, and that more will be added in the weeks to come.

In its presentation, YTS noted they transported 480 juveniles to and from court from July-Dec. 2021. That's compared to 234 juveniles transported between January and June of that same year.

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