Study: Kansas juvenile arrests drop as changes get underway

TOPEKA — Fewer juveniles have been arrested and held in the Kansas juvenile justice system while the state has been investing in alternatives to incarceration, according to a recent study.

The Pew Charitable Trusts found that the number of juvenile arrests in Kansas fell by 29% between 2015 and 2017, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported. The state’s population of youth placed in detention facilities or group homes declined by 63% from 2015 to 2018, researchers said.

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The changes align with when Kansas began funneling budget savings into community-based therapy and intervention programs designed to keep families together. Lawmakers passed a bill in 2016 to redirect at-risk youth into alternative programs.

The report directly attributed the decline in youth confinement to the closure of a correctional facility and a reduced reliance on group homes to hold juveniles with lower-level offenses or risk profiles. Out-of-home placements of juveniles dropped in Kansas from 878 in 2015 to 321 last year.

Dana Shoenberg, Pew’s senior manager of juvenile justice research and policy, said Kansas serves as an example of how states can change their juvenile justice system while containing costs.

But Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly said that “there have been some hiccups.”

Much of the budget savings intended for juvenile programs “is still sitting in accounts,” said Kelly, who as a state senator had embraced many of the proposals that sought to change the juvenile justice system.

She said the state could benefit from adopting a systematic approach to investing budget savings into the alternative programs.

Lawmakers last year approved a budget provision that withdrew $6 million from the juvenile justice reinvestment funds, said Greg Smith, chairman of the Kansas Department of Corrections’ Juvenile Justice Oversight Committee.

The money was transferred to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s budget, Smith said.

“The problem is now we’re having to defend people wanting to take that money, because they’re saying, ‘You’re not spending it,'” he said.

Smith said the committee has been working to identify the best programs to invest in.

Smith is asking legislators this year to restore the money to the juvenile justice initiative. He said it seems likely that the new state budget will reverse last year’s appropriation.


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