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New audit reveals still-struggling Kentucky juvenile justice system

Kentucky Senate Majority

A new audit of Kentucky's ailing juvenile justice system says most of the reforms called for in 2017 have not been implemented. The report found inconsistent policies, low staffing, and mismanagement throughout the system.

Coming at the request of the General Assembly, the independent audit by a Lexington criminal justice consulting firm paints a troubling picture of the juvenile justice system — saying it remains out-of-step with national best practices, understaffed and overly reliant on overtime, with poorly-defined policies.

The report raises issues with isolation methods, the use of chemical agents, tasers, and other security control devices without clear procedures in place, and a lack of overall strategic direction.

One example: According to the audit, Kentucky’s juvenile detention center staff have been using pepper spray at a rate nearly 74 times that of rates in federal prisons.

In a statement, Sen. Danny Carroll wrote, "The report from CGL confirms the fears and concerns my colleagues and I expressed during last year’s DJJ workgroup efforts. The information from this report will be helpful as we continue to navigate the challenges facing Kentucky’s most troubled youth."

The report comes as high-profile officials overseeing the system are exiting their posts. Juvenile Justice Commissioner Vicki Reed resigned January 1. Her former boss, Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary Kerry Harvey will step away from his post in February.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.