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Kansas House passes juvenile justice reform bill that creates more scrutiny over young people

TOPEKA — Kansas officials have high hopes for a proposed program that fixes flaws within the state’s juvenile justice system by creating more resources and oversight for at-risk youth.

House Bill 2021 would require the Department of Corrections and the Department for Children and Families to coordinate risk and needs assessments for children at risk. The House Thursday passed the bill 85-35, mostly along party lines.

“For now, this is a far better solution than they’re in,” said Rep. Stephen Owens, a Republican from Hesston, during Wednesday’s House debate. “The funds will continue to flow. The savings will continue to exist.”

HB 2021 would implement procedures to allow children to participate in community programs, with the DOC, DCF and Judicial Branch providing services and oversight.

By July 1, 2025, the DOC will create a system to provide data such as health care requirements, mental health needs and substance abuse treatment, among others to help provide the right care for young people in the system.

Although the bill creates more oversight, several lawmakers have opposed a section of the bill that would implement longer prison terms. The maximum cumulative detention limit would be increased from 45 days to 90 days.

Rep. Boog Highberger, a Democrat from Lawrence, and Rep. John Carmichael, a Democrat from Wichita, have spoken out against the provision, saying placing young people in detention for longer periods of time was not a good idea.

“The longer the amount of time you place a child in custody, unfortunately, the more bad behavior the child learns because they are placed in an environment with people who are already established juvenile offenders,” Carmichael said.

Many groups have been urging legislators to act on juvenile justice system issues for years, following the passage of Senate Bill 367, which was implemented in 2016. . Instead, juvenile offenders were to receive community programs and care.

“A lot of positives have come from SB367, but it has also created problems where more young people with offending behavior have entered the foster care system,” HB2021 advocates Children’s Alliance of Kansas said in a Friday newsletter. “Over the past few years, we’ve seen these behaviors endanger other foster children, foster parents, and childcare professionals.”

While juvenile incarceration rates have declined since the bill’s implementation, officials said juvenile offenders were not receiving the proper treatment and had high recidivism rates. Foster care providers have taken on juvenile delinquency cases, even without adequate resources to handle them.

The state has set aside millions for funding for the juvenile crisis center, which it believes is a potential solution to a lack of resources for juvenile offenders, but has not used any funding. In 2018, Johnson County applied to create a center, but the state government dropped the project.

Owens said the reforms implemented in SB 367 were a crucial first step in fixing the system, and the new legislation will continue the work.

“No piece of comprehensive legislation ever gets it 100 percent,” Owens said. “Just not. And then it becomes our responsibility as lawmakers to acknowledge, listen to the people on the ground who are interacting with these young people every single day, and make the changes that are needed. And that is what this bill is a product of.

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