Kentucky judges are jailing youths for truancy and other noncriminal offenses at one of the highest rates in the U.S., sidestepping federal and state laws and ignoring the near-unanimous agreement of experts and advocates that it harms children, reports the Louisville Courier-Journal. Last year, more than 1,500 Kentucky children were sent to juvenile jails for such “status offenses” as missing school or running away from home — offenses that aren't considered criminal and don't apply to adults.
Although that's roughly 200 fewer Kentucky children jailed than in the previous year, advocates and detention officials say the number is far too high and the practice is no way to treat children whose problems generally stem from abuse, neglect, poverty, mental illness, or other social ills. It's expensive — Kentucky spent $2 million last year to incarcerate status offenders, a fact that some detention officials argue is a poor use of their facilities. “There has to be a better alternative than locking a child behind a door to get their attention,” said Hasan Davis, Kentucky's deputy director of juvenile justice, who believes that runaways and truants have no business being housed alongside youths charged with more serious offenses, such as drug crimes, murder or rape.