Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Editorials

February 11, 2012

Excellent idea

Legislator seeks a tack force to study juvenile justice

ASHLAND — State Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, wants to do for Kentucky’s juvenile code what he was instrumental in helping do for the state’s criminal code. It’s an excellent idea.

Tilley, an attorney who is chairman of the judiciary committee in the Kentucky House of Representatives,  wants to establish a task force to study the juvenile code. That was the first step toward the 2011 General Assembly’s approval  of a bill reforming the criminal code that we believe is the most important single piece of legislation since the 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act.

The task force on the criminal code involved prosecutors, defense attorneys, prison officials, legislative leaders, legal scholars and ordinary citizens who took their jobs seriously, were wiling to make compromises and were able to come up with a bill that all could support. It was approved by wide margins in both the House and the Senate during a legislative session in which little else was accomplished.

Tilley said change — “something that ranges from a tune-up to an overhaul”  — also is needed in the juvenile code, and he thinks a similar task force can accomplish it. He has introduced a resolution that would open a study of establishing an age of criminal responsibility and whether to modify how certain offenses and offenders are treated.

Under the juvenile code some “status offenders” who aren’t guilty of a crime but may be runaways  or truants can be locked up in juvenile detention. Top state juvenile justice and court officials have said that too many children younger than 11 are brought before judges in court. “Status offenders” also are treated much differently from county to county. More consistency is needed throughout the state.

Because juvenile cases for the most part are closed to the public, less is known about how juveniles are handled, but enough is known to realize that judges  differ on how they handle juvenile cases.

Tilley is not proposing any changes. He simply wants to study the issue. While creating a task force sometimes is a cop out for elected officials fearful of making a decision, in this case, study is needed. Seeking the advice and input of experts who regularly deal with juveniles is a great way to come up with meaningful changes in the status quo.

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