Juvenile DOC reform bill passes House
A bill to allow state circuit judges to refer kids to the Department of Corrections for repeat nonviolent offenses has crossed its last legislative hurdle. Senate Bill 4 was approved by the House of Representatives on Tuesday, Feb. 28.
One legislator said the state has not spent as much as it could to find community services. But the bill’s sponsor pointed out that those services can’t be had in certain areas even if the money is there.
Rep. Taylor Rehfeldt introduced the bill on the House floor. She said it gives judges the option of referring juvenile offenders to the Department of Corrections after three offenses in one year.
“UJS [Unified Judicial System] estimates that this will allow the judges to have discretion over less than 50 children per year,” she said.
Rehfeldt emphasized that judges are not mandated to use the DOC option.
But Rep. Linda Duba urged the House to defeat the bill. She said she asked the Secretary of Social Services what kind of money the state is providing for alternatives to DOC.
“We appropriated almost seven million dollars for diversion programs,” she said. “Unfortunately, we reverted almost three million dollars of those funds.”
Duba said the state has the money to do more for kids who are in crisis.
“Before we make this decision to do a three-strikes and you’re in corrections, is that we dig deeper into why we’re not spending almost three million dollars to help juveniles and their families,” Duba said.
Rehfeldt agreed that it’s unfortunate money was turned back, but if there are no community services available, DOC could be the answer.
“In some of these communities, the Department of Corrections is meant to be that last-step option,” she said. “But it might be the one thing that actually saves these kids and gets them some resources that they need.”
Rehfeldt said DOC can provide evaluations and mental health services, as well as food and safety for kids who need that kind of support.
The bill passed on a vote of 62 to 7 and now goes to the Governor’s desk.