Progeny, a youth justice reform group, wants the State of Kansas to take another strong look at improving its juvenile correctional system and they’ve prepared a report to help guide that change.  

Their recently released report, From Harm to Healing: The Blueprint to Healthier Outcomes for Kansas Youth, looks at other states’ more successful programs and calls on the state of Kansas to follow suit and close its state-wide Juvenile Correctional Complex located in Topeka. The members of Progeny, are calling for lawmakers to invest in programs and resources to keep youth out of the juvenile system. 

As a youth-driven group, Progeny members felt it was important for their voices to be heard and considered when the state makes decisions about how to address juvenile justice.  

“ Our youth’s voices are unheard time and time again and have not been given a seat at the table. How can we talk about the future of the youth justice system without hearing directly from those most affected? This report comes directly from our youth,” said Yusef Presley.

Progeny partnered with Kansas Appleseed to create the blueprint that makes a case for better use of the state’s funds like providing the youth community resources and an education and since incarceration is proven ineffective at keeping troubled youth out of prison. 

The Blueprint evaluates the financial and social costs of putting juveniles in the Kansas Juvenile Correctional Complex and proposes a system centered on prevention and rehabilitation rather than punishment. 

At the cost of $368 per day, Progeny estimates it can cost $134,000 a year to incarcerate a child in Kansas, compared to less than $10,000 a year for the child’s public schooling and just $21 per day for supervision of a child on probation.   

Not only is juvenile imprisonment in Kansas costly and ineffective, but it also disproportionately affects Black and brown youngsters, according to Progeny. The Census Bureau estimates that around 6.1 % of Kansans are Black, while Black kids account for approximately 30% of the KJCC population. 

Alternatives to incarceration

For their blueprint, Progeny looked to other states for effective models,  including Missouri.  According to the report, Missouri has shifted away from traditional imprisonment and more towards smaller institutions with substantial programs closer to young people’s families and communities.

The report also looked at recommendations by Illinois’ Juvenile Justice Initiative, which has proposed their state exhaust all less restrictive options before incarcerating a young child, and that lawmakers should raise the minimum age for detentions from 10 to 13.

Similarly, Progeny’s blueprint proposes Kansas emphasize home care and confinement, with prison being the last choice. Instead of such a vast, centralized adolescent jail, the study suggests that the state establish smaller local facilities with ten beds.

Kansas Existing Efforts 

In 2016, the Kansas Legislature passed Senate Bill 367 restricting the use of out-of-home placement of youth, except for the highest-risk juveniles.  However, unlike Progeny’s proposal, the Bill did not call for the closing of the Juvenile Correctional Complex.  

In addition, SB 357 shifted significant amounts of the juvenile justice system’s resources toward evidence-based alternative youth programs that are administered. In contrast, the youth remain at home, that are designed to help reduce juvenile offenses.  This year, the state’s budget cut funding for those intervention programs by $20 million.  

Kansas Sen. Molly Baumgardner, the vice-chair of the state’s Juvenile Justice Oversight Committee, which has responsibility for implementing SB 367,  said the bill has successfully reduced the number of incarcerated children, but more work needs to be done. 

According to the study, Kansas’ correctional system housed a total of 11,700 young people between July 2020 and June 2021, including juvenile delinquency cases and “child in need of care” cases. That was down from more than 15,500 people five years ago.

“The goal has always been to reduce the incarceration level, which it has done,” Baumgardner said. “But has it helped to really resolve the issues? I don’t know that anyone is comfortable saying, ‘Yep, it’s at the mark that we want.’” 

Still, Progeny wants the Juvenile Correctional Complex closed completely.  Documentation shows that institutions like JCC reduce a child’s chance of completing high school, increase their chance of recidivism, and too often train youth to become adult criminals.   

“A lot of people within this legislator and the JJOC identified that our youth prisons have caused serious harm but don’t exactly know how to eliminate them or how to fix them,” said Nichole Lee, campaign manager for Progeny.“ Overall, we wanted to amplify the voices of young people about what they think needs to happen for Kansas lawmakers to be able to close that prison.”

KS Rep. Gail Finney supports shutting down KJCC and replacing it with more community-based initiatives, but as far as SB 357, she’s willing to give the bill’s reforms more time to show results.  

“I just think it’s going to take more time and resources to make it a success,” Finney said.

Baumgardner is also willing to give SB 357 more time, pointing out that so far, “the government hadn’t used the state’s money set aside for prevention programs as effectively as legislators hoped. 

Join Progeny in a collective conversation about who to call if you have a child in a crisis on  Sun., Oct. 24h, 3 p.m at The Center, 1914 E 11th St N.

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