FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky Gov. announced Thursday. Andy Beshear is pending the departure of the state’s juvenile justice commissioner but said a series of policy actions over the past year have created a “good road map” for the troubled agency.
Juvenile Justice Commissioner Vicki Reed has submitted her resignation effective early next year, the governor said at a news conference. Reed has become a lightning rod for criticism as the state-run system struggles to contain violent outbursts at several juvenile detention centers. The governor on Thursday called for a coordinated effort among state lawmakers to continue dealing with the agency’s issues.
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Before his re-win last week, the Democratic governor offered an upbeat message about the Bluegrass State’s future for more economic gains. He began his press conference, as he usually does, by announcing the latest economic development projects the state has landed.
“This is the brightest, most hopeful opportunity that I have certainly seen in my life for where we can go as a state, lift up all our people and move us all, not right or left, but forward together -sama,” the governor. said.
Beshear also announced the departure of several administration officials as he prepares for his second four-year term. Some reshuffling is common as any governor rotates from a first term to a second and as some officials seek new opportunities.
In another notable departure, Jeremy Slinker is stepping down as director of Kentucky’s emergency management agency to take a job with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the governor announced. He praised Slinker as a “relentless worker,” and said he “couldn’t have had a better partner” in dealing with the aftermath of the devastating tornadoes that hit parts of western Kentucky in late 2021, which followed by massive flooding that inundated parts of eastern Kentucky in 2022.
But the biggest shock was the announcement that Reed was leaving the Department of Juvenile Justice. The agency has undergone several leadership changes in the past few years, and Reed was hired by Beshear as commissioner in 2021. The state has begun a search for his successor.
“We appreciate all of his efforts in pushing past existing challenges and helping us make some of the most significant changes since DJJ’s creation,” Beshear said. “I know it hasn’t been easy for Vicki Reed to keep going. But every day she shows up and tries to do her best and I’m thankful for that.”
Kentucky’s juvenile justice system is struggling to keep up with the growing number of youth accused of violent crimes. The result is a series of attacks, riots and escapes.
A riot broke out last year at a detention center, injuring several youths and staff. Order was restored after state police and other law enforcement officials entered the facility. In another incident, some juveniles kicked and punched staff during an attack at another center.
Beshear responded with a series of policy changes to try to curb the violence. He announced that young men would be assigned to facilities based on the severity of their offenses, and that “defensive equipment” — pepper spray and Tasers — had been provided for the first time so detention center workers could defend themselves and the different if attacked. The juvenile justice agency has hired a director of security, and visitor screenings have been stepped up to prevent drugs or other dangerous substances from sneaking into detention centers.
The state’s Republican-led legislature passed legislation and pumped more money into the system to try to overcome chronic problems. The law added stricter rules for juveniles charged with or convicted of violent crimes. Lawmakers appropriated money to increase salaries for juvenile justice employees, hire more DJJ correctional officers, upgrade security at detention centers and increase diversion and treatment services for those incarcerated youth. The appropriations reflect most of the funding requests from Beshear’s administration to retain and recruit workers at understaffed facilities.
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“I think we have a good road map for DJJ,” Beshear said Thursday when asked what’s next for the department. “I believe that if we continue to work on the engagement plan with the General Assembly, that we’re in a better place and we’re getting to a better place.”
The agency has come under fire in recent months for, among other things, improperly locking juveniles in segregation due to understaffing and for the misuse of pepper spray by corrections officers, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader , which has reported extensively on the issue.