Louisville Courier Journal
Published 2:59 PM EDT Aug 20, 2019
FRANKFORT — Louisville-area lawmakers are pushing city and state officials to keep incarcerated kids in the area, even as a plan for how the state will take over youth detention is still being negotiated.
Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, said Tuesday morning after a budget review subcommitee meeting on justice and the judiciary in Frankfort that the Jefferson County delegation is "unified" in demanding the children stay in Louisville, close to their support systems, schools and families.
That might mean, he said, the state foots the bill for the city to keep running its detention center in the interim, as a long-term solution is being worked out.
"Whatever plan, whatever program we have going forward, these kids need to be in Louisville," Nemes said. "That’s the bottom line."
"You talk about money and it’s extremely important, obviously. Kentucky doesn’t have a bunch of extra dollars," Nemes said. "But these kids are extremely important, too. They’re more important."
A little more than four months remain until the city stops paying for the local youth detention center, the state's sole locally run facility. Louisville Metro Council passed a budget in June that funded the city's operation through Dec. 31.
After that, under law, the state will be tasked with taking it over.
Background: State says it can't operate a juvenile detention center in Jefferson County
While neither the Department of Juvenile Justice nor the city has said how youth detention will be managed going forward, Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary John Tilley precisely spelled out which options would not work in Louisville.
“The plan is that we are, again, mired in negotiations,” Tilley said. “Back and forth, good faith, good negotiations — nothing but continued good conversation to try to come up with a solution.”
Among the options that have been disqualified:
- A state facility in Lyndon is being used as a day treatment center and was not designed for secure detention. Retrofitting it would cost “several” million dollars, he said. And, the facility is already serving children and families in its current iteration.
- The state would not assume control of the city youth detention facility because it would require “several million” dollars of deferred maintenance, Tilley said. And, there’s not enough time to construct a new facility in addition to what it would cost the state, he said.
Without operating a detention facility in Jefferson County, the state could detain Louisville kids in one of six regional detention facilities throughout Kentucky.
The other centers are in McCracken, Warren, Fayette, Campbell, Breathitt and Boyd counties.
Tilley said his department can't ask lawmakers for more money in the middle of the state's budget year, and Louisville's Metro Council has made its budget decision.
“We will do our best to keep these children as close to home as possible,” Tilley said. “That is our goal.”
The Metro Council approved a budget June 25 that stripped funding from Youth Detention Services in the second half of the 2019-20 fiscal year, estimating it would save about $2.4 million in six months beginning Jan. 1.
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Mayor Greg Fischer had floated the idea in February when he was campaigning for an insurance tax hike, but he didn't include it when he unveiled his budget proposal in April.
Council members who supported the shift pointed out that Jefferson County is the sole city or county to run its own facility and said per diem payments from the state didn't cover the full cost of running the facility.
“It’s a big bucket of money in our budget,” Metro Council President David James, D-6th District, said in June. “… The state isn’t reimbursing us anywhere close to what it costs. We’re at a time when we’re in desperate need of tax dollars, but it was a really hard decision.”
At that time, Tilley told the Courier Journal the state couldn't operate the facility and would be "forced to find placement for Louisville youths outside the Greater Louisville area."
Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, said youth in Christian County are detained in Paducah, more than an hour away. Westerfield, one of the leaders in passing a major juvenile justice reform in 2014, said he knows what kind of strain that puts on families.
"It’s hard on people in Christian County, parents and families, to get to McCracken," he said. "It just doesn’t happen as often as it does when they’re right there at home, or right there close by."
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Westerfield echoed Nemes' sentiment in hoping Jefferson County kids aren't detained too far from home.
"I understand the realities of the system and not being able to do certain things or having budgetary constraints that you have to contend with, but my hope is they can stay pretty darn close to home," he said.
Nemes said after the meeting that Tilley and Juvenile Justice Commissioner Denver Butler support keeping the kids in Louisville. He added that he understood Tilley and Butler had constraints, but that "what I'm trying to say is the committee that drafts their budget is steadfastly behind keeping these kids in Louisville."
Asked about the sticking points in negotiations between the state and the city, Nemes said it came down to "dollars and facilities."
"If we need an extension to get the long-term solution in place, that’s something we could work toward, as well," Nemes said. "We don’t have to have the final answer before Dec. 31. We have to have an intermediate answer."
Darcy Costello: 502-582-4834; [email protected]; Twitter: @dctello. Tessa Duvall: 502-582-4059; [email protected]; Twitter: @tessaduvall. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: courier-journal.com/darcyc.