Kansas lawmakers approve major juvenile justice reform

TOPEKA (KSNT) — Kansas lawmakers have signed off on a proposal to overhaul the state’s juvenile justice system, with one guiding principle in mind.

“Our most important resource is our kids,” said Sen. Greg Smith, a Republican from Overland Park and Chair of the Senate Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee.

The overhaul he and others have been working on for at least a year on allows kids who commit minor crimes to avoid time in group homes and juvenile detention centers.

“We’re getting worse rather than better results from kids that are assigned to the group homes in terms of AWOLs, runaways. In terms of recidivism rate and the re-adjudication of these kids,” said Rep. John Rubin a Republican from Shawnee.

Kansas has the sixth highest rate of juvenile offenders placed in detention centers or group homes nationwide.

Rather than putting taxpayer money towards low risk placements in those facilities, this new legislation allows those low risk kids to serve their sentences at home.

State funding will be redirected, but not into the State General Fund.

“We actually put a lock box provision in the House Bill to ensure to the maximum extent we can this would be the case, that the money saved by phasing out the group homes and other savings that are involved in the bill are going to be re-invested to make sure community programs are more widely available throughout the state,” said Rubin.

“If we don’t re-invest, then this program isn’t going to work. We have to reinvest those savings,” said Smith.

The money will go towards community programs to help juvenile offenders complete high school, enter vocational programs, avoid drugs and alcohol and manage anger.

“The more these kids have these programs available in the community and can successfully complete these programs, the less likely they are to recidivate,” said Rubin.

That’s the ultimate goal, “Getting better outcomes for kids, so they can live better and more productive lives and not re-offend, reduce recidivism and therefore enhance public safety and in the process save the taxpayers a lot of money.”

A special conference committee of lawmakers are still ironing out a few details on that bill.

Once it’s all worked out the changes will head to the governor’s desk, likely sometime later this week.

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