Juvenile justice reform stirs conversation

WICHITA, Kansas – The governor hopes the new law will reform the juvenile justice system by not locking up so many young people, but critics are worried offenders might not have enough supervision.

According to data by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2013, Kansas had the sixth-highest incarceration rate for young offenders in the nation.

So, the bill was created as an effort to decrease the number of low-risk offenders in juvenile detention by using community-based programs that address behavior and anger management.

But KSN learned, that may be easier for some communities than in others.

“We’ve been doing what the bill proposes for about 20 years now,” said Steven Stonehouse, the interim director for the Sedgwick County Department of Corrections.

He says Sedgwick County has a lot of alternatives to detention.

The county has resources and prevention programs like electronic monitoring and home-based supervision.

“We’re always looking for ways for them to be successful in their neighborhoods and their local schools if at all possible,” Stonehouse said.

That’s why Stonehouse says he sees the benefit to Senate Bill 367.

“Juvenile detention always serves a purpose and we’ll always have to be here,” he said. “We just want to make sure we have the right population.”

“It’s about making sure that our communities are safe while juveniles are held accountable for their actions. It’s about reducing recidivism and preventing citizens from becoming victims of future crimes,” said Governor Sam Brownback.

But others have some concerns about the law.

“As far as maintaining the low-risk and medium offenders in the community, it’s going to be very difficult to keep them in their homes with their parents not able to maintain them,” said Clayton Carr, the executive director for Sequel of Kansas.

Sequel is a privately owned agency that helps people through behavioral, emotional and physical issues.

Carr says he testified neutral to the juvenile justice bill and sees a lot of good changes, but he’s not fully sold.

Mainly, he says, because of a lack of resources.

“The urban areas: Sedgwick County, Johnson County, Wyandotte County, Shawnee county, Saline county—they have more services in the community currently than the smaller judicial districts; especially in western Kansas,” he said.

And Stonehouse agrees with that.

“They’ll have to band together in order to make it work,” Stonehouse said. “I think where the population is really small their challenge is much greater than ours.”

Stonehouse also says, in order to be successful, they have to address those family issues through therapy, a short stay in foster care or in a shelter until things calm down at home.

In 2015, there were more than 1,000 kids placed in juvenile detention in Sedgwick County.

Of those, 303 were ordered there by a judge.

284 were being held on misdemeanors and misdemeanor warrants.

More than 300 were being held for felonies and felony warrants.

There has actually been a decrease of kids being placed in detention centers over the past several years.

In 2009, Sedgwick County admitted 1,477 juveniles but in 2015, they only admitted 1,006.

Governor Brownback says the overhaul of the juvenile justice program will save the state $72 million over the next five years.

Here in Sedgwick County, the cost of housing children in juvenile detention facilities has risen over the past three years.

There are several different correction services available.

The juvenile detention facility costs $247 per person, per day.

The non-secure juvenile residential facility costs $166 per child, per day.

But the home-based supervision program only costs $21 per kids, per day.


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