The panel monitoring juvenile justice reform in Kansas released a new report Thursday that documented progress in the third year of a transition to consistent methods of handling offenders within their communities, while acknowledging challenges with reinvesting millions of dollars of savings into proven interventions.

The 2016 Legislature ordered overhaul of the state's approach amid criticism that youths were too frequently removed from the home and sent to residential facilities or correctional institutions. Reformers pressed for adoption of standard practices capable of avoiding geographically inconsistent outcomes. Others insisted on evidence-based programs backed by enough money to address troubled youths early and cut recidivism.

The Juvenile Justice Oversight Committee, which includes legislative, judicial and executive branch representatives as well as people from outside state government, reported progress establishing statewide standards, imposing a prohibition on out-of-home placement for low-risk youths and directing resources to young people at highest risk of committing new crimes.

The report outlined recommendations to double annual spending to more than $21 million in the fiscal year starting in July 2020, but "acknowledges that there are and have been challenges with the implementation and outcomes" of the juvenile justice bill passed three years ago. While the report noted a decline in youths moving into the correctional system, the document didn't explore complications of more youths entering other state programs, including foster care, handled by the Kansas Department for Children and Families.

Hope Cooper, a member of the oversight panel and a deputy secretary of the Kansas Department of Corrections, said the state's system of juvenile justice was moving in the right direction.

"Of the many improvements to our state’s juvenile justice system, I am most encouraged to see the continuum of resources that now focus on serving kids and their families in the community, instead of removing them from the home and hoping the family can change," she said.

The annual report for the fiscal year that ended in July was forwarded to Gov. Laura Kelly, Senate President Susan Wagle, House Speaker Ron Ryckman and the chief justice of the Kansas Supreme Court.

The document indicated the number of youths placed in the Juvenile Correctional Facility had dropped from 237 in the 2015 fiscal year to 179 in the last fiscal year, a decline of 24% reduction. The number of low-level offenders at the lone correctional facility fell from 34 in fiscal 2015 to zero in fiscal 2019. The length of time juveniles were under community corrections probation supervision dipped from 20.2 months in fiscal 2015 to 15.5 months in fiscal 2019.

Greg Smith, chairman of the oversight committee and a former state senator from Johnson County, said reducing out-of-home placement among lower-risk youths and caring for them in their communities was a core objective of the reform bill.

"As we learned from the research, this is what is effective for seeing long-term behavior changes in youth," Smith said.

The committee debated how to target $17 million in annual savings set aside by lawmakers to finance improvements in the juvenile justice system. The state earmarks $9.1 million annually on programs for juveniles, but the report outlined a plan for broadening allocations to $21.8 million.

Authors of the report said the reinvestment plan "adheres to best practices" and could be sustained for a minimum of six years. The document pointed to a desire for reliance on a scientific approach to "guide decision-making well into the future."

"Courts, local juvenile justice agencies, defense attorneys, prosecutors, law enforcement, educators, service providers, child welfare and KDOC have been steadfast in their work to ensure that Kansas improves the effectiveness of the juvenile justice system, and this report reflects successes in that effort," said Jeff Zmuda, secretary of the state Department of Corrections.