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Kansas Addresses Juvenile Justice Reform - KOAM TV 7

Kansas Addresses Juvenile Justice Reform

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GIRARD, KANSAS -

Since 2004, juvenile arrest rates dropped 50% in Kansas. However, according to 2013 data from the US Department of Justice, the state has the 6th highest incarceration rate for young offenders.

In Girard, the Southeast Kansas Regional Juvenile Detention Center houses youth for 11 counties in Kansas. But Director Jeffery Leslie says today, it's only housing 16 juveniles. 

"The judges and the court personnel in Southeast Kansas have already been pretty forward-thinking in limiting their use of detention," Leslie said. 

Monday morning Governor Sam Brownback signed legislation aimed at lowering youth incarceration throughout the state, by keeping more juveniles at home while participating in community based programs. The reform will also divert money from jails to these programs.

Leslie actually testified about the new legislation in Topeka, worried it might restrict judges power to sentence juveniles. He hopes it will offer judges new option to address juvenile cases where, previously, detention was the only option. 

"Hopefully that will give [courts] more alternatives," Leslie said. "My concern is that the judges are allowed to keep all the flexibility because I think they've done a good job in utilizing that."

Leslie says he doesn't believe the limited use of detention centers should effect the population of the Crawford County location, though he's interested to see what kind of new programs could come from the legislation.

"So any type of program that can help them academically, can help with conflict resolution, or can have worth-wile activities that can better use their time," Leslie said.

It will be up to individual judicial districts to decide what types of community based programming it will try developing. 

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