Hasan Davis was arrested for the first time on theft and assault charges when he was 11 years old. Raised by a single mother in Atlanta housing projects, Davis and his siblings moved 12 times before he turned 14. He has two brothers serving life sentences, and gang-related violence killed five cousins. Davis, himself, narrowly escaped the hopelessness he saw in the projects as well as a permanent prison address and the graveyard.
Those experiences gave Davis, the former commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice, a unique frame of reference on youth and crime. As he travels the nation sharing his testimony and professional expertise, Davis routinely describes his evolution from juvenile delinquent to juris doctor, and running a juvenile justice system that he once ran from.
What we learn from Davis on Wednesday night in a KET follow-up to the PBS Frontline documentary Prison State is that a mother’s love can help save a wayward youth careening down a self-destructive path.
Davis’ passion for juvenile justice is reflected in his enthusiasm for a new Kentucky law that he hopes will keep troubled youth from making the same mistakes he did. Davis believes – and statistics support – the high probability that a kid’s first encounter with the juvenile justice system won’t be his or her last.
Lawmakers Update State Juvenile Justice Policies
The recognition that detention is ineffective in redirecting misguided youth was embodied in Senate Bill 200, which passed in the 2014 Kentucky General Assembly. A key provision of the measure reduces the current practice of locking-up kids who skip school or habitually run away from home, and replaces it with community support programs and family interventions.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Tilley (D-Hopkinsville) was a major champion of the legislative effort. He says the new law seeks to end the co-mingling of non-criminal status offenders with youth detained for serious crimes.
Wednesday at 10 p.m. on KET, I’ll share more about changes in the juvenile justice system and explore the effectiveness of reforms in the adult prison system, now almost three years old. Tune in to Prison State: A Kentucky Community Conversation as I talk with policymakers and activists about the restructuring of the state’s corrections systems. I’ll live tweet throughout the broadcast, so join me in the conversation @ReneeKET.
Until then, you can watch the Prison State documentary to see how Kentucky’s criminal justice system impacts the lives of four Louisvillians as well as taxpayers across the commonwealth.