Kentucky's Racial and Ethnic Disparities Efforts

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Author: Rachel Bingham is the Department of Family & Juvenile Services Executive Officer at the Kentucky Administrative Office of the Courts

In 2014, Kentucky experienced sweeping reforms to the Kentucky Juvenile Code which expanded access to diversion to prevent youth from progressing deeper into the juvenile justice system and focus the most intensive resources on the most serious offenders.  The results have been incredible with youth access to diversion increasing by 36% and youth detention rates dropping by 10%.   Although highly successful, the reforms have made apparent the disproportionate and disparate outcomes for youth of color that have contact with Kentucky’s Juvenile Justice System.  The below chart shows the Court Designated Worker (CDW) Program (Kentucky’s pre-court diversion and intake program) data outcomes by race for the programs contact points.









Based upon these outcomes, it became apparent to the Kentucky Administrative Office of the Courts’ Department of Family and Juvenile Services (FJS) that they must intentionally focus on reducing racial and ethnic disparities (RED).  FJS administers the statewide CDW Program in all 120 counties of the commonwealth.  With the CDW Program contact points identified, FJS has developed a model addressing racial and ethnic disparities within the program which concentrates on the following areas: Identify, Construct, Institutionalize and Re-Evaluate.

The FJS model has evolved over the past four years, the above areas and strategies are recognized as being highly successful in working within the CDW Program to reduce RED.  The understanding of RED and identification of contact points drives performance measures and outcomes.  This information is imperative to provide a data walk by race to staff as well as the development of local action plans.  In Kentucky, the four RED counties have active action plans driven by local staff. To advance staff into constructing an individualized approach to their efforts with youth and RED, an agency level strategic plan was developed that included specific reduction goals.  These goals include local action plan goals as well as outcomes from a Racial Equity Assessment completed by all program staff on a yearly basis. 

In addition, on-going training is pivotal to professional development and included Implicit Bias, Cultural Collisions, and Let’s Talk Race.  It is also important to analyze policies and procedures that may unintentionally impact RED within a program.  This is on-going throughout the model and has identified barriers to access for youth and families of color.  For example, diverted youth through the CDW Program that fail to appear (FTA) for their initial appointment with a worker may be referred to formal court. Local staff analyzed policy and procedure around FTA and identified that scheduling of appointments aggravated the FTA problem. This led to a program-wide policy change in which CDWs are required to schedule appointments based upon the client and families schedule by phone rather than by the original practice of assigning an appointment and sending a letter.  Through on-going review of data, the new FTA policy reduced FTA for all youth statewide by 40% and reduced the African American overrepresentation from 48% to 42%. 

The institutionalization of policy, procedure, and practice changes has directly impacted the individualized client approach that CDW Program staff provide to all youth they work with daily.  For example, across the state there has been a decrease in the filing of juvenile complaints and Jefferson County (Kentucky’s largest urban area) is no different with a 42% decrease in complaints filed for the 1st 6 months of 2019 compared to 2016.  Due to the decrease in complaints and increase in a youth’s access to diversion, the local county attorney overrides for diversion decreased by 88% for the same period.  Through the leadership of the Christian County RED Capstone Project, there has been a 60% reduction in judicial overrides for black youth in 2019.  These are true policy and practice changes that ensure an individualized client approach to accessing diversion and utilizing least restrictive placement options instead of detention. 

In closing, the Kentucky AOC will release the Kentucky Juvenile Justice Data Analysis: Racial & Ethnic Disparities Public Website in January of 2020.  The overall commitment to re-evaluate by this effort will provide the opportunity for on-going opportunities to address RED in an individualized client focused approach.

If you would like more information on the Kentucky Administrative Office of the Courts model, please feel free to contact FJS Executive Officer Rachel Bingham at or call 502-330-1223.