FRANKFORT, Ky. – A bill to end the practice of automatic youth transfers to adult court passed the Senate Standing Committee on Judiciary.
Senate Bill 87, sponsored by Sen. Whitney Westefield, R-Crofton, would prevent automatic transfers of youth offenders to adult courts for offenses with firearms. Currently, any youth 14 or older who commits a crime with a firearm is automatically put in the adult system.
“The judge has no discretion, the prosecutor has no discretion, even if the prosecutor and the judge want to keep it in juvenile court and not transfer it up they are stuck having to transfer it up,” Westefield said. “This simply restores that judicial discretion, it allows them to decide, weigh the same factors that they weigh in literally every other case.”
Grayson Democrat Senator Robin Webb voted for the measure but urged the committee to also consider allowing the same type of treatment for youth offenders who have low IQ’s.
“I think I would be remiss if we did not try and remedy the injustice for those of us that practice juvenile law to those individuals who are lesser intellect and may not understand the consequences of their actions.”
Westerfield agreed further action should be taken by the legislature to try and prevent youth offenders with low IQs from being sent to the adult system.
“I think it’s unwise to put a juvenile in the adult system in most circumstances certainly if they have an IQ at the level,” Westerfield said. “That’s a challenge for grown adults to navigate the system to understand the consequences and the different functions of that system.”
Kentucky Youth Advocates is celebrating the passage of the bill out of committee.
“When judges have the discretion to decide how to handle these cases rather than mandating a transfer, courts can respond more effectively to cases and children can have better access to rehabilitative supports and services within the youth justice system,” Executive Director Terry Brooks said in a statement. “An efficient and effective youth justice system holds kids accountable, helps them grow up to become contributing members of their community, and increases public safety.”
The bill now heads to the Senate floor for full consideration.