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Ky. senator wants to build Louisville mental health detention center for kids in state custody

Man seated with hand raised, palm facing up. there is an American flag far behind him.
LRC Public Information Office
Sen. Danny Carroll, shown here, unveiled a plan Tuesday that prescribes policy changes and new construction for Kentucky's juvenile detention system.

A Kentucky lawmaker is working with state agencies to reform how they manage children in their custody, especially those who need psychiatric services.

Republican state Sen. Danny Carroll of Benton rolled out a $165 million plan Tuesday to build at least three new juvenile detention facilities across Kentucky, among other proposed changes.

This comes after public scrutiny of dangerous conditions and incidents in state-managed centers that hold incarcerated youth.

“This bill is one that we have been working on intensely throughout this session,” Carroll told the Senate Families and Children Committee, which he chairs.

Much of his proposal, Senate Bill 242, focuses on “high-acuity youth.” That term refers to children who need “an environment and specialized treatment capable of addressing manifest aggression, violence toward persons or property destruction.”

Carroll said SB 242 proposes the development of a 16-bed “high-acuity mental health detention center” for youth where the focus is on treatment, not detention. It would be managed by Kentucky’s juvenile justice department, with assistance from the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

“This is kind of breaking new ground from what I understand, and [it’s] really difficult to find any model in the country that's currently doing this,” Carroll said at a legislative meeting Tuesday. “So we will have to make adjustments as we go.”

He said it will take over 18 months to build the facility. He wants to locate it on the grounds of Central State Hospital in Louisville.

Amid safety concerns about co-ed facilities, SB 242 would also order the juvenile justice department to open two detention facilities solely for girls, with one in central Kentucky and the other in western Kentucky, by Feb. 2026. Another facility could be established later in northern or eastern Kentucky.

Much of the estimated $165 million would go toward building the facilities. Carroll indicated lawmakers will negotiate over funding as they finalize state government budgets this year.

Among other policy changes, SB 242 lays out a standardized process for developing and implementing psychiatric treatment plans for children in state custody, including those charged with crimes.

Here are a few key points of that process:

  • A clinical professional first must assess if a child is a “high-acuity youth” and recommend whether and where they should receive treatment.
  • The Kentucky courts can issue an order that specifies the treatment plan for the child, with input from state agencies and the hospital that would care for the patient.
  • If the patient acts violently toward anyone at the hospital, they can be discharged and sent elsewhere, like a juvenile detention center.

Carroll said the legislation was developed through conversations between different state agencies and the Kentucky Hospital Association.

During those talks, he said they “discovered that one of the reasons that these hospitals are reluctant to take” high-acuity kids on an inpatient basis is a concern that they can’t remove them if they’re violent with staff.

“In this bill, we clarify a process to make sure that those children can be moved to a detention facility,” he said.

Keith Jackson, the new secretary of the state Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, showed support for the bill Tuesday.

“The primary focus of our mission, going forward, is the safety of the youth,” he said.

Eric Friedlander, secretary of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, likewise called the proposal “good progress.”

He told Carroll at Tuesday’s meeting, “You've dug in on this, right? And you've held our feet to the fire and you’ve pushed us forward.”

Carroll introduced the proposal Tuesday through a substitute version of SB 242, which he filed as a shell bill that could be updated later. The Senate Families and Children Committee could vote on this next week.

Morgan is LPM's health & environment reporter. Email Morgan at mwatkins@lpm.org.
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