Kansas House Committee Advances Juvenile Justice Reforms

Mar 13, 2017

A Kansas House committee advanced a bill Monday that would amend the state’s juvenile justice policies — a year after lawmakers made sweeping changes to them.

Last year’s overhaul intended to create options other than incarceration for Kansas youth offenders.  But the changes had some unintended consequences, said Rep. Russ Jennings. One example is that some crimes involving a gun, like a drive-by shooting, might only result in probation.

“Those are pretty serious offenses that at least the court should have an option to do something more,” said Jennings, a Lakin Republican.

The amendments in this year’s reforms, House Bill 2264, were crafted by Rep. Blaine Finch, a Republican from Ottawa who is also an attorney. They restore some flexibility for prosecutors when charging certain juvenile offenders.

Under the law passed last year, misdemeanor offenders must be given the opportunity to complete an “immediate intervention program” instead of prosecution. These diversion programs seek to keep low-level offenders out of the criminal justice system.

Finch’s amendments would rescind that requirement for offenders who plead down to a misdemeanor from a felony charge and for all sex offenses, even misdemeanors. Prosecutors still would be able to offer diversion to those offenders, but they wouldn’t have to.

“This is a little bit more discretion back into the … process,” Finch said.

Finch also offered two other amendments:

  • One would require the state to create a database of offenders who have received diversion in the past, so the state can track re-offenders.
  • The other would crack down on “absconders,” or offenders who skip out on their probation requirements.

Finch said the Kansas Department of Corrections can use the rules and regulations process to address other legislator concerns, such as making sure existing diversion programs like Youth Court fit into the new statutes.

Advocates of last year’s reforms had acknowledged there were elements of the reforms that needed to be revamped but feared opponents would attempt more drastic changes.

Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio, a partner in the Kansas News Service.