The incentive fund will allow judicial districts to apply for funding in amounts between $10,000 and $200,000, to go toward programs like family and community reintegration and prevention services, restorative justice programs, in-home and wraparound services, community work projects, training for job skills and basic life skills, educational support, and mentoring and apprenticeship programs.

Kentucky’s Justice and Public Safety Cabinet (JPSC) and Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) launched the fund, which is paid for with savings from a reduction in youth out-of-home placements. The Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) also plays a key role, as the fiscal agent of the grants. AOC will provide judicial districts and community stakeholders with technical assistance in preparing their applications. After grants are disbursed, AOC will collect and report on data from the judicial districts to evaluate the implementation and efficacy of grant-funded programs.

Kentucky’s legislature passed Senate Bill 200, its juvenile justice reform, in 2014. The reforms were based on findings and recommendations in a 2013 report from the Task Force on the Unified Juvenile Code, which found that the majority of youth in out-of-home placements were adjudicated for lower-level offenses. More than half of the DJJ’s $102 million budget was being spent on secure and non-secure residential facilities, where most beds cost $87,000 per year. Moreover, the state was not seeing the commitment and out-of-home-population declines happening in most states. Between 2002 and 2012, the length of time spent out of home increased 31 percent for violations of probation and court orders and 21 percent for misdemeanor offenses; the length of time youth spent in out-of-home facilities was similar regardless of the seriousness of their offenses.

The Task Force developed recommendations to focus use of out-of-home facilities on youth with the most serious offenses. Incorporated into S.B. 200, the reforms restricted the commitment of youth adjudicated for lower-level offenses and limited the amount of time they may be placed out-of-home; increased and strengthened evidence-based programs; created the fiscal incentive program; and established an Oversight Council. S.B. 200 passed both houses of the Legislature, and Governor Steve Beshear signed it into law in April 2014.

The new incentive fund is a crucial component of Kentucky’s juvenile justice reform. The state enacted policy changes aimed at decreasing the population of youth committed to DJJ custody by increasing the use of pre-court diversion, restricting commitment of low-level offenders in certain instances, and limiting the use and length of out-of-home placement. The law provided that the state would direct one quarter of the cost savings achieved through the reduced use of secure detention and placement to fund a new fiscal incentive program.

Three years since passage, Kentucky’s reforms continue to bear fruit as projected, and the creation of the incentive fund marks the latest achievement on this front.  The Department of Juvenile Justice reported a 60 percent drop in the youth population from the fall of 2013 through May 2017.  Two residential treatment programs and one detention center closed or were repurposed this year, and one group home closed in 2016.  Overall, the reforms to date have generated $4 million in cost savings. The creation of the $1 million incentive fund therefore fulfills the reforms’ design of directing 25 percent of the savings to funding the incentive program.