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Early Numbers Are In

Early Numbers Are In

Over the course of 2012 and 2013, we studied Kentucky's Juvenile Justice system.  Our findings were not good, and the recommendations for legislative action were big.  What followed was the most comprehensive overhaul to the system in nearly 30 years, Senate Bill 200.  This overhaul, passed in 2014 and fully in effect as of July 2015, has become a national model for other states to follow.  States from West Virginia to Kansas and South Dakota have looked at what Kentucky has done.  The bottom line is that we were holding kids who hadn't committed any crimes with kids who had committed some of the worst crimes there are, and we were detain low-level offenders out of home when a community based approach is both far more effective for kids and their families, and far less expensive to the taxpayer.  We weren't always assessing the needs of the child in a meaningful way.  Senate Bill 200 required a risk and needs assessment early in the process and brought that community based approach to life.

So far, the numbers from the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), and the Department for Community Based Services (DCBS) look promising.  While it's too early to claim broad success, we are, for the moment, trending in that direction:

 

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FAIR (Family Accountability Intervention and Response) Teams were created in SB200 as multi-disciplinary teams of local professionals to review cases that otherwise would have ended up in court.  The FAIR Team's goal is to plug kids in to community based resources and programs to address their needs.  A teacher gave me the example of a young student who was punished for being disobedient and insubordinate.  The child was acting out of a mental health diagnosis that the system was unaware had been made.  This kid was punished when all he needed was mental health care.

Likewise there are kids who are merely truant (which is a behavior that should definitely be corrected with the child and/or the parents involved) who would share a cell behind razor wire two hours from home with the kids who sold drugs or committed violent crimes.  This is incredibly harmful to the kids involved, making their situations worse.  Adding insult to injury, holding kids out of home is incredibly expensive.  Adults held in state prison cost the taxpayer about $22k a year.  Juvenile detention beds cost about $100k a year.

Now that FAIR Teams are meeting across the state we can see that nearly half of the cases that would’ve gone to court are now being resolved through the FAIR Team process - making an enormous positive impact on the lives of these children and their families, while avoiding the enormous drain on the taxpayer with court dockets and detention.

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41% of kids that would've gone to court were successfully diverted out of the system, making a huge difference in their lives and sparing the high cost of increased court dockets and detention centers.

Gaming, indeed.

My position against gaming is well known, particularly in Frankfort.  Gaming lobbyists never waste time bringing it up to me.  Despite my personal, philosophical objection to the idea of gaming I'm still willing to have a learned discussion about it.  I'm open to hearing opposing view points.  My job as a legislator requires me to keep an open mind and weigh ideas.  If anyone who supports gaming ever came to me to talk about it I'd be happy to have that discussion, but unfortunately, so far, their arguments have failed even the slightest examination.  There are lots of questions gaming advocates haven't answered.  If they want it to pass, like advocates for any legislation, they must be prepared to answer the questions and own the results - good or bad.

A recent article in the New York Times discussed some of these questions in the context of a study done by a partnership of universities.  It's a short read that I highly recommend, regardless of your position.

The debate in Kentucky circles the often cited "let the people decide" sales pitch.  I posed to gaming supporters during the 2014 session the following hypothetical:  If we moved such a law forward, and put the gaming expansion matter on the ballot for voters to defeat or pass, would the gaming industry consent to spend just as much money advertising the woes of gaming as it does advertising it's merits?  Supporters conveniently fail to say out loud what everyone in state politics believes - the best ad campaign usually wins.  How many of you reading this believes the gaming industry would be outspent by those of us who oppose gaming?  Casinos made about $35 Billion in 2011. The Family Foundation and the Kentucky Baptist Convention don't exactly compete.

While I'm at it, here are a couple more questions that must be answered by the gaming industry:

  1. What portion of your patrons are in the middle and lower income groups of the communities/regions where the casino exists?

  2. What do you do to educate your patrons that you are taking steps to attract prolonged gaming? For example, do you inform them that slots are designed to entice more gaming (i.e., "near misses" and penny bets)?

  3. What financial information about patrons do you collect?

  4. How much do middle and low income gamblers lose as a percentage of their income?

  5. What impact do casinos have on existing businesses in the areas where they operate?

  6. Excluding management, what are the mean and median incomes for your job positions?

  7. What losses in revenue do churches and non-profits experience when a casino enters a region?

  8. Similarly, do churches and non-profits experience an increase in service requests and outreach in regions where you operate?

  9. What amount, if any, do you set aside to provide for financial education programming and does that programming use a curriculum that cautions against gaming habits? How do you make your patrons aware of the education programming?

 These are just a few to start with.  So far, I haven't had a conversation with a gaming supporter that didn't bring up a handful more that went unanswered.  I'm not holding my breath.

Whitney's Week 5 Wrap-Up

Will we ever get a break from this winter weather? February opened with snow and ice across most of Kentucky. I hope you and yours are safe. As highway crews are out working all hours of the night, and utility workers are restoring power to the many areas that lost it, I am reminded of and appreciate the people that are out working in these tough and hazardous conditions to keep us safe and warm. I encourage you to remember them in your prayers.