Kentucky legislature progresses plan for new mental health juvenile detention facility

A bill aimed at establishing a special mental health juvenile detention facility for “high acuity” youth has been approved unanimously by a Kentucky House committee. Sponsored by Sen. Danny Carroll, a West Kentucky Republican, Senate Bill 252 is critical for the well-being of these young individuals.

With only a few days left in the 60-day legislative session, there is a small window for the bill to become law. The legislature needs to fully pass bills by Friday in order to preserve their right to override a potential veto by Gov. Andy Beshear.

Under Senate Bill 252, Kentucky plans to operate two female detention centers by February 1, 2026, with one located in Central Kentucky and the other in the western part of the state. A third center could be built if the first two reach capacity. Additionally, a 16-bed acute mental health facility will be constructed to provide specialized treatment for juveniles who exhibit aggression, violence, or property destruction.

The Department of Juvenile Justice will manage and staff the facility, with support from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to ensure appropriate mental health treatment is provided. While the final budget has not been confirmed, the Senate has proposed $45 million for each female-only facility and $5 million for the mental health facility, although Carroll had requested $22 million.

Carroll emphasized the urgency of establishing a mental health facility for youth in the justice system, stating that it needs to happen now to prevent further delays. He stressed that failing to act now would result in at least four more years before these children can receive the necessary support, which he deemed unacceptable.

By Riley Johnson

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