Kentucky juvenile justice reforms have multi-million dollar price tags, state budget director says

by McKenna Horsley (Kentucky Lantern)

FRANKFORT — State Budget Director and Executive Cabinet Secretary John Hicks told lawmakers Tuesday that the price tags to support executive branch reforms in the Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice are $20 million in the next fiscal year’s operating budget and $26 million in the current capital budget. 

Amid discussions about Kentucky’s juvenile justice system, representatives on the House Budget Review Subcommittee on Justice, Public Safety and Judiciary heard an update from Beshear administration officials on Tuesday. 

Hicks and Department of Juvenile Justice Commissioner Vicki Reed outlined how the system works and recent changes to it. In recent months, violent outbreaks in the juvenile detention centers have made headlines. 

The plans Hicks outlined were announced by Gov. Andy Beshear last week. The operating budget request includes maintaining the starting pay of youth detention workers at $50,000 annually, supporting transportation services and hiring more staff in detention centers. The capital budget request would include improvements to the Lyndon facility in Jefferson County and security upgrades to youth detention centers. 

In addition to the $20 million and $26 million requests, another is $30 million to raise the starting  pay of adult correctional institutions’ staff to $50,000 annually. 

Hicks said he “could assure you the money’s there,” though the projection would be shaved a bit if House Bill 1, which lowers the state income tax, goes into effect. 

“But even if you take that away, we still have a sustained level of recurring resources that are there not only for this, but for some of the other of the governor’s recommendations, particularly in the areas of K-12 education and universal pre-K,” Hicks said.

Subcommittee Chairman Patrick Flannery, R-Olive Hill, asked Hicks how House Bill 3, filed by Rep. Kevin Bratcher, R-Louisville, would compare to the administration’s request. The bill would allocate $8.9 million in the next fiscal year to the Department of Juvenile Justice for renovating a building for a downtown Louisville youth detention center. 

Hicks said a youth detention facility in Lyndon, which is also in Jefferson County, was established after Louisville Metro Government “decided to no longer provide detention center services to the Jefferson County youth.” The Lyndon site was previously a youth development facility. 

“We haven’t done a full walkthrough there to see what are the renovations that would be necessary to bring that facility back to a secure detention center,” Hicks said. “So the first reaction to that is, I don’t know if $8.9 million is the right number because we haven’t had an opportunity to go in there and kind of determine what are the things that have to be done.” 

In a press conference earlier this month, Bratcher said members of a legislative workgroup and Louisville Metro Government officials were in agreement about Louisville having a youth detention center.

The administration is in contact with local government officials and is working to schedule a walkthrough, Hicks said. 

He also pointed out that the funding in HB 3 would be appropriated next year. To get started on the facility as soon as possible, the funds are needed this year. Another concern Hicks had was appropriating state funds to the department to retrofit another government’s facility. 

“We understand the spirit and intent, particularly of the $8.9 million, but we think there are some things to be further considered before we really can land on a position there,” Hicks said. 

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Photo:  From left, Department of Juvenile Justice Commissioner Vicki Reed and John Hicks, state budget director and Executive Cabinet secretary, address a meeting of the House Budget Review Subcommittee on Justice, Public Safety and Judiciary. (Photo for the Kentucky Lantern by Liam Niemeyer.)