KS: Senator Joe Patton (R) says Change is Overdue for Juvenile Justice Authority


Note: Cross posted from [wp angelfury] KS-Family Court Reform Coalition.


Editorial: Change overdue



November 3, 2009 - 12:10am

When people talk about hindsight offering 20-20 vision, it's usually after something inexcusable has happened. Such is the case with changes to be made by the Juvenile Justice Authority.

The head of JJA last week announced the authority would begin requiring independent inspections twice a year of juvenile facilities operated by contractors and make recommendation for any needed changes, would classify juvenile homes for low-, medium- and high-risk offenders and would use a uniform test to assess the risk posed by each juvenile in its care. The changes are overdue, but welcome nonetheless.

A Topeka legislator who is a member of the Committee on Corrections, Republican Joe Patton, credited the new policies to a lawsuit filed against Forbes Juvenile Attention Center alleging a 12-year-old boy was repeatedly raped in January 2008 by his 15-year-old roommate at the facility. Criminal charges also were filed against the older boy. The lawsuit and staffing issues were among details about the FJAC highlighted in stories published last month in this newspaper.

It's unfortunate that it takes such a serious case to bring about change, but we'd be remiss if we didn't credit JJA Commissioner Russ Jennings with implementing changes designed to lessen the chances such a thing could happen again. Jennings, appointed by former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius in February 2007 to lead the Juvenile Justice Authority, had decided to adopt the new policies under his own authority as commissioner but also sought the support of the Committee on Corrections.

The chairwoman of that committee acknowledged last week that Kansas was behind some other states in terms of risk assessment for juvenile offenders -- the Youthful Level of Service Case Management Inventory to be implemented by JJA has been around for some time and already is used by four district courts -- and credited Jennings with trying to catch up. That sounds good, and we wish Jennings well. But there were early warnings that the 12-year-old wasn't a good fit for FJAC and what he would encounter there. At least one FJAC case coordinator, who was in a position to know, told the court's case manager the youth would be "eaten alive" at Forbes because of his small size.

It's apparent Jennings and his administrative staff would do well to also listen to those who work with the juveniles who find their way into the system.

Patton said the new policies and the committee's endorsement of them served as a message about the importance of ensuring the safety of juveniles. The committee, he said, was watching and would follow up on the changes.

We're sure the public, which doesn't expect 12-year-olds to be harmed while in the state's care, also will be watching.

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