Plan for a mental health juvenile detention facility advances in Kentucky legislature

Kentucky Lantern

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FRANKFORT — A Kentucky House committee unanimously moved forward a bill that would establish a special mental health juvenile detention facility for housing “high acuity” youth, a move the sponsor called “critical.”

Sponsored by Sen. Danny Carroll, a West Kentucky Republican, Senate Bill 252 can now go to the full House for consideration, having already passed the Senate.

Wednesday is the 57th day of the 60-day legislative session, meaning the bill has a small window to become law. In order to preserve their right to override a veto by Gov. Andy Beshear, the legislature needs to fully pass bills by Friday.

Under Carroll’s bill, Kentucky would begin operating two female detention centers — one in Central Kentucky and one in the western part of the state — by Feb. 1, 2026. The locations were based on female incarceration rates in those areas. A third could be built if the first two reach capacity.

Kentucky would also build a 16-bed acute mental health facility meant to house juveniles who need “specialized treatment capable of addressing manifest aggression, violence toward persons or property destruction.”

The Department of Juvenile Justice would own and staff the facility, but the Cabinet for Health and Family Services would partner to provide appropriate mental health treatment.

The General Assembly’s two-year budget is not yet final, but the Senate proposal included $45 million for each of the female-only facilities. The Senate budget also included  $5 million for the mental health facility, though Carroll had asked for $22 million.

“What the final product is going to be I don’t know,” Carroll said in the House Families and Children committee Wednesday. “What I do know is how critical this is.”

Having a mental health facility for youth in the justice system is “something that’s just got to happen,” Carroll said. “If we don’t do that now, it’s going to be at least four years before we’re able to get these kids out of detention facilities. In my mind … that’s unacceptable.”

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