LEGISLATIVE UPDATE: State passes juvenile justice reform bill

This week the legislature wrapped up the regular session and is now on its spring break. There is a great deal that has happened in the last several weeks and I do not have enough space to discuss all of it here.

On the last day of session, the House and Senate passed SB 367 the juvenile justice reform bill. This bill is the result of a nearly yearlong effort to reform the juvenile justice system with three goals in mind:

• promote public safety and hold juvenile offenders accountable;
• control taxpayer costs; and
• improve outcomes for youth, families, and communities.

Our current system is not properly balanced. We spend the most money on the offenders with the lowest risk of reoffending. We tend to use expensive out of home placements for low and medium risk offenders even though the evidence tells us that only makes them more likely to reoffend. We also end up taking low-risk kids and putting them in with high-risk kids where our system essentially becomes a kiddie criminal college. This jeopardizes our kids’ safety, wastes tax dollars, and ultimately doesn’t fix the problem.

SB 367 rebalances the system by reducing out of home placements, increasing community based solutions and giving our hard working prosecutors and judges more tools to craft a solution that works for these young people. The bill uses evidenced based solutions that we know work and keeps low risk kids out of the system. We know the more contact a child has with the court system, the more likely he or she is to come back. This bill helps reduce reoffending and saves dollars, nearly $72,000,000 over the next five years. Those savings are reinvested in programs that work, programs that rehabilitate our kids, keep our communities safer, help families, and give Kansas kids a better shot at realizing their full potential.

I was honored to work extensively on this bill in the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee. Two weeks ago I was asked to carry the bill on the House floor where it passed the first time 117-6. In a surprising move, the Speaker selected me to work on the conference committee to help iron out differences with the Senate and House versions of the bill. On the eve of the last day of session that committee came to agreement and we ran the final report on the very last day. SB 367 passed the House 118-5 and the Senate 40-0.

This was a large bill with many reforms, over 40 different ones. No one group got all they wanted and there will certainly be changes and amendments that we will need to consider as we go forward. But I was glad to work with many good people on this worthwhile effort.

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