Scott Ballard District Attorney
January 16, 2014
As I kid, I enjoyed going to see Fayette County High School basketball games. We only had one high school in the county. The gym was often filled. When the action was intense, the place would rock.
One year they had a tall center who was terrific. He was amazing to watch. There was just one problem.
He didn’t know what goal to shoot toward. If the coach stood at courtside pointing toward our goal, all was fine. Otherwise, things could go south in a hurry.
I thought about him when I read the juvenile court bill that came out of the General Assembly last year.
I had been excited to learn that juvenile court reform was a priority. I had visions of programs that would pinpoint the root cause of each child’s misbehavior and other programs that would address those issues. I saw the opportunity to stem the growing threat juvenile delinquents pose to our citizens by providing beleaguered judges with the tools they need to protect us. Maybe we could finally divert those headed toward a life of crime by correcting attitudes and habits early.
Well, you know how the legislative process works. There are so many cooks in the kitchen, each tossing his favorite ingredient into the soup, that the product is often not edible. With the juvenile court bill, the coddlers convinced the financially responsible legislators that coddling saves money.
I think they shot at the wrong goal.
The bill took effect January 1. We’re all adjusting. One of the changes requires that a prosecutor be more involved in the preparation of papers than we previously were. That’s not a bad idea. But, the legislature didn’t provide any money to pay these prosecutors for the extra responsibilities. Instead, they gave District Attorneys the option to quit prosecuting juvenile cases. If we choose that route, counties must find resources to hire a juvenile prosecutor not affiliated with the DA.
Many District Attorneys had no choice but to pull out of juvenile court. Many of them were never involved in juvenile court in the first place.
We’re staying. Broken and ignored as it is, juvenile court remains critical to your safety. Any success we have in that court benefits all of us down the road.
Moreover, staying involved with juvenile court helps us stamp out gang activity. Gang recruiters approach juveniles. Our judges and law enforcement are tireless in their commitment to stop them. We’re going to be there to help in any way we can.
I’m hoping that some of the more excellent representatives from our districts will point the others toward the right goal in the upcoming session.Right now, they’re just scoring points for the wrong team.