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Louisville lawmaker wants court appearances to be required for juveniles accused of violent crimes

In 2014, lawmakers reformed Kentucky's juvenile justice system with a goal of reducing incarcerations. Some worry a bill will reverse the commonwealth's progress.

FRANKFORT, Ky. — A Louisville representative proposed a bill he feels will help reduce juvenile crime rates in the Metro and across Kentucky. 

In 2014, Kentucky lawmakers reformed the commonwealth's juvenile justice system.

Instead of incarcerating youth, the state put more emphasis on getting youth on the right path and keeping them out of the court system.

"We don't want children to be marked for life if they do something stupid," Rep. Kevin Bratcher, R-Louisville, said. 

Bratcher is sponsoring House Bill 318.

If approved, juveniles accused of violent felony crimes would have to be detained for up to two business days until they can be brought before a judge.

Under Kentucky Law, violent crimes include murder, manslaughter, assault, kidnapping, rape, burglary and arson.

"There are some juveniles committing some horrible crimes out there, especially in the last couple of years," Bratcher said. "This is not just Louisville, even though it has exploded in Louisville. This is statewide."

Bratcher said HB 318 bill also takes steps to hold parents more accountable.

In Kentucky, juveniles accused of crimes may be eligible for a diversion program. If they are, the juvenile will get an individualized plan to get them on a better path.

For example, they could be required to attend treatment programs or do community service.

If a juvenile finishes the diversion program, their record is wiped. If they don't, they're referred to another program to help them.

Under HB 318, a juvenile could fail their diversion program if the courts find their parents don't help them complete the required work.

"Many times, a child cannot complete that diversion program that a court-designated worker sets up if the parents are not cooperating," Bratcher said. "We must make the parents cooperate."

Terry Brooks, executive director at Kentucky Youth Advocates, said he doesn't think that's right.

"You can't mandate parental involvement," Brooks said. 

Brooks said there is a lot of ambiguity in HB 318, and said he worries it'll cause more harm than good if it passes.

"I feel like this bill raised some really important issues that we need to dig into, but we need to dig into it first before it becomes law," Brooks said. "What I don't want to is to have young people pay a price for legislative language that catches them in the breach."

HB 318 passed out of the House. It now heads to the Senate for consideration.

Bratcher said he expects some amendments will be made before the Senate votes on it.

Right now, there is a provision in the bill that would prohibit a juvenile's record from being wiped if the person admits to or is found guilty of a violent felony offense. 

Bratcher said he expects Senate will remove that section.

 Contact reporter Rachel Droze at rdroze@whas11.com or on FacebookTwitter or Instagram  

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