My heart continues to mourn the death of 16-year-old Gynnya McMillen who died while in Kentucky’s Lincoln Village Juvenile Detention Center. My prayers continue to go out to Gynnya’s family.

Gynnya was a resident of Louisville’s Maryhurst child-welfare facility. I have a painting in my living room by a resident of Maryhurst and cannot imagine turning my back on young people when they need us the most.

As it should, the Juvenile Justice Department is holding several Lincoln Village staff accountable for falsifying documents and exerting violence and verbal abuse toward youth in the center. However, firing staff is not enough to combat the systemic violence, neglect and ineptness in the Kentucky Juvenile Justice Department. As the mom of a 15-year-old daughter and a former board member of Restorative Justice Louisville, I am compelled to continue to advocate for Kentucky juvenile justice reform and gain answers for Gynnya’s family and community that loves her.

Senator Westerfield filed a bipartisan, racial disparity bill during the 2016 Kentucky General Assembly that would provide for the collection of data necessary to evaluate whether our detention centers and juvenile justice system is aiding our children or harming them. Under this bill, data would expose negligent and abusive centers like Lincoln Village and potentially protect future children from being exposed to violent and inept care.

As your State Representative, I will work across the aisle support legislation like Senate Bill 270. We need a plan that works to address the disproportionate discipline rates of Black and Latino students that feeds the school-to-prison pipeline. We need to implement restorative practices that focus on healing and repairing the harm caused by a juvenile so that young people learn how to be responsible and make restitution. Instead of spending $72,000 per year to incarcerate a young person – and only $7,000 per year to educate our youth – we should invest in positive behavior changes, prevention of offenses, and focus on the economic and social issues that are at the root of what some young people are experiencing.