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Kentucky Begins to Focus on Status Offenders

| February 15, 2012

Late last year, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported that Kentucky locks up status offenders at one of the highest rates in the nation.

Status offenses are those that are only a crime as a result of the age of the offender—like running away from home, truancy, and possession of alcohol.

Given the high costs of juvenile incapacitation—and the dismal rates of effectiveness—juvenile justice leaders in Kentucky are understandably eager to lose this dubious distinction.

One leader, District Judge Karen Thomas, is looking to develop a new way to handle status offenders. She has proposed addressing the misbehavior through a case management system, incorporating stakeholders from sectors beyond the justice system and applying services to address the underlying issues that precipitated the status offense.

Importantly, Judge Thomas is focusing on the role of the family. Status offenses often represent a breakdown in the traditional parent-child relationship, and therefore, effective responses usually involve parents and families as an integral part of the process.

Judge Thomas’s proposal will likely be piloted in one county in Kentucky. If it is successful, it could spread across the state.