FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky's system for classifying and housing juveniles who commit sex offenders has been struck down by a judge who ruled that it deprives the youths of proper treatment.
In his ruling Wednesday, Franklin County Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd said the state Juvenile Justice Department exceeded its authority in creating a system where youths who commit even minor offenses are required to undergo long-term treatment at residential centers.
The judge ordered the department to stop using the placement system and to relocate all youths who are placed inappropriately within 30 days.
The case was brought on behalf of five boys with mental retardation, but Shepherd's ruling applies to any youth in the system whose offense isn't serious enough to require long-term, residential treatment.
Juvenile Justice Commissioner Bridget Skaggs Brown declined to comment on the ruling Wednesday but issued a statement through spokesman John Hodgkin.
"The department disagrees with the judge's ruling," the statement said. "We're still reviewing his ruling and exploring our options."
The ruling was welcomed by public defenders who filed suit challenging the system and by a western Kentucky judge who said the practice violates the spirit of the state's juvenile law, which calls for treating and rehabilitating children at home or as close to home as possible.
"What they are doing is not what's envisioned by the juvenile code," said Christian County District Judge James G. Adams, a former juvenile prosecutor who helped write the updated juvenile law in 1987.
Gail Robinson, an assistant public advocate who filed the lawsuit, said her clients with mental disabilities are extremely frustrated by demands of the program that include discussions, essays, keeping journals and analyzing their behavior.
"They try really hard but they just aren't capable," she said. "None of the kids have ever graduated from this program."
Robinson said she isn't sure how many youths would be affected by Shepherd's ruling but said it would include many youths withoutmental disabilities who simply have committed minor offenses.
Shepherd found juvenile justice officials have begun classifying youths who commit even minor sex offenses, such as fondling, as "juvenile sex offenders," a category under law generally reserved for older children who commit serious offenses such as rape or sodomy. That classification allows the department to send the youths to a secure facility where they are required to enter sex offender treatment programs for up to three years.
But the practice exceeds the legal definition of what constitutes a juvenile sex offender, Shepherd said.
Juvenile justice officials also made no exceptions for youths with mental retardation - even though the law says they may not be classified as juvenile sex offenders, the judge said.
Information from: The Courier-Journal,
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)