Kansas governor signs overhaul of juvenile justice system into law
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has been hounded by naysayers over his fiscal policies.
Now, with a simple swoosh of his pen, Brownback is being praised for being both fiscally-responsible and improving outcomes for the youth involved in the state’s juvenile justice system. On April 11, he signed into law a bill that puts more emphasis on treatment rather than detention.
“Being smart on crime promotes public safety and the rehabilitation of youthful offenders so that they can become law-abiding citizens,” the governor said. “This bill does just that. The legislation aligns our juvenile-justice system with what the research shows works best to reduce victimization, keep families strong and guide youth towards a better path.”
Backers say the law will lower the number of kids locked up or placed out of the home. Low-level offenders will be afforded educational, vocational and therapy programs. And juveniles with drug and alcohol problems will get treatment.
Keeping kids at home equal big savings
It’s estimated that in five years, this new approach would mean a 60-percent decline in placements resulting in a savings of $72 million.
In addition to the cost savings, keeping kids out of placement just makes sense, according to Randy Callstrom President/CEO of Wyandot Inc. "The evidence is clear that incarcerating low risk juvenile offenders increases their risk of re-offending. By re-allocating money into community base services, Kansas has an opportunity to help youth, strengthen families, and head off a cycle of criminal behavior."
One of the bill’s proponents, Rep. John Rubin, R-Shawnee, said he has “no doubt as a result of this legislation that youth offender recidivism in Kansas will substantially decrease, and it will make Kansas a safer and better place for all citizens.” A 2015 study reported 42 percent of kids sent to prison in the state were locked up again within three years.
A work group headed by Rubin and Sen. Greg Smith, R-Overland Park, found that Kansas has one of the highest detention and out-of-home placement rates in the U.S., ranking eighth in the country. This was despite having a lower than the national average juvenile crime rate. And this was costing the state $90,000 per out-of-home placement.
The Pew Charitable Trusts was among those praising the new bill. It “represents an important step forward for juvenile justice in Kansas,” said Adam Gelb, director of Pew’s public-safety performance project. “By letting facts drive the discussion, Kansas policymakers have crafted a new direction for the system that will maximize the state’s return on investment—for youth, for their families and for public safety.”