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Gov. Beshear Announces New Leadership at Justice and Public Safety Cabinet

Priorities focus on creating safer communities, protecting law enforcement, reducing recidivism and expanding youth rehabilitation

FRANKFORT, Ky. (March 21, 2024) – Today, Gov. Andy Beshear announced several new appointments at the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, furthering the administration’s mission to increase public safety, reduce recidivism and support addiction treatment and at-risk youth.  

Gov. Beshear has appointed Keith Jackson as secretary, Mona Womack as deputy secretary and Randy White as commissioner of the Department of Juvenile Justice. 

“This team has been serving the commonwealth for numerous years in Veterans Affairs, fire and emergency services, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and the Department of Corrections,” Gov. Beshear said. “They have been with my administration since the beginning of my first term and are true public servants who want the very best for this commonwealth, ensuring that all Kentuckians are safe, healthy and have the needed resources to best provide for their families.” 

Since August 2021, Secretary Jackson has served as the cabinet’s deputy secretary. Prior to joining the cabinet, Secretary Jackson served as the commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs. In June 2012, he made history by becoming the first African American appointed chief of the Lexington Division of Fire and Emergency Services. Secretary Jackson is a veteran of the U.S. Army Reserves, where he served for 27 years in numerous capacities ranging from platoon leader up to battalion command.

“The future of Kentucky is bright, and we are more equipped now than ever before to keep our communities safe and create a better commonwealth for future generations,” said Secretary Jackson. “As we have been for the last four years, we are focused on protecting our heroes, fighting addiction, seeking justice for victims, reducing recidivism by building second chances and ensuring all Kentuckians are not only safe, but feel safe.” 

Prior to being appointed deputy secretary, Mona Womack served as the cabinet’s chief of staff for two and a half years. Deputy Secretary Womack has an accomplished history working in Kentucky state government. Before joining the cabinet, she served as executive advisor to the Public Protection Cabinet, acting commissioner of the Department of Housing, Buildings and Construction and acting executive director of the Office of Claims & Appeals. She also served for 26 years at the Cabinet for Health and Family Services as an attorney, division director and deputy general counsel. 

“The administration has made great strides in the public safety arena by increasing pay for our prison and juvenile justice correctional officers and Kentucky State Police troopers, which have dramatically reduced staff vacancies,” Deputy Secretary Womack said. “We have also increased personnel at our medical examiner’s office, which is critical to Kentucky families who have lost a loved one. We have reduced overdose deaths, increased the law enforcement training stipend and strengthened our juvenile justice system. Over these next four years, we will build on these successes and continue to work hard to make Kentucky a national leader in public safety.” 

Today, Gov. Beshear also announced that effective April 1, Randy White will serve as commissioner of the Department of Juvenile Justice.  

“We have made the most substantial improvements to the juvenile justice system since its inception 25 years ago, and today’s announcement further proves our commitment to creating safe and secure facilities while making the investments needed to support our at-risk youth,” Gov. Beshear said. “Randy White has the skills and experience to lead this department into the future and help create a better commonwealth for all our children.” 

“Major investments are on the way for the Department of Juvenile Justice with support from Gov. Beshear and the General Assembly, and there is no one better to oversee this future than Randy White,” said Secretary Jackson. “Commissioner White is committed to making Kentucky a national leader in mental health treatment for juveniles and alternatives to detention, and Team Kentucky will benefit greatly from his leadership.”  

In December 2023, Commissioner White retired from the Department of Corrections after 27 years of service. During his career he served in numerous leadership positions, including deputy commissioner of Adult Institutions, warden of Kentucky State Penitentiary and Green River Correctional Complex, deputy warden of Luther Luckett Correctional Complex, classification and treatment officer, corrections unit manager and procedures/accreditation specialist and correctional officer. Most recently he served as deputy commissioner, a position he held for five and a half years. During that time, Kentucky secured the lowest recidivism rate in state history. He also developed a Narcan program for the Department of Corrections, leading the nation as the first prison system to train staff on how to administer this lifesaving drug to prevent overdose deaths.

Commissioner White will prioritize reducing youth crime and recidivism, increasing mental health treatment, enhancing employee training and securing all 27 juvenile facilities to better protect youth and staff, while continuing to implement the administration’s aggressive plan to enhance safety in response to violent incidents.

“Juveniles entering the criminal justice system are committing harsher crimes and require stronger rehabilitative programs than when I started in corrections 27 years ago, and as a former deputy commissioner I had a lot of interaction with these juveniles when they would transfer to adult prison,” Commissioner White said. “And for Kentucky to truly reduce the juvenile population, we must focus our efforts on alternatives to detention, education, programming, employment and mental health. Our juveniles need our support, and I pledge to do just that.” 

Commissioner White graduated from Eastern Kentucky University with a Bachelor of Science in corrections and juvenile services and police administration, and a minor in psychology. He is a veteran of 23 years with the U.S. Army and Kentucky Army National Guard.

“I felt it was important to speak directly with Commissioner White and I want to thank him for taking the initiative to visit with me yesterday,” said Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Benton, co-chair of the 2023 legislative DJJ work group. “I’m impressed with Commissioner White, particularly his strong background in corrections and treatment, and I am optimistic about the working relationship the legislature, DJJ and the Justice Cabinet can have as we work toward our shared goal of improving public safety and the services we provide for troubled youth. I believe he brings steady and smart leadership to the table. This can be a new day for collaboration and communication in the effort to strengthen the culture within DJJ.”

At Gov. Beshear’s direction, the department has implemented several steps to address the challenges in juvenile detention facilities, which include:  

  • Opened the first female-only detention center. 
  • For the first time in Kentucky, male juveniles are now separated by security level based on the severity of their offense. 
  • Expanded the transportation branch to help law enforcement. 
  • Collaborated with the Kentucky State Police and Department of Corrections to enhance security in juvenile detention centers. 
  • Provided compensation enhancements to help better recruit and retain staff, including providing a 10% and later an 8% raise, as well as providing an increased hourly and shift premium. 
  • Made substantial improvements to the physical facilities designed to enhance security. 
  • For the first time in Kentucky, made defensive equipment available to security personnel who have had no equipment with which to defend themselves or youths when attacked. 
  • Trained security personnel concerning the use of defensive equipment and the identification of threat groups within detention centers. 
  • In January 2023, hired former Department of Corrections warden Larry Chandler as director of security, adding his deep experience in operating secure facilities.  
  • In February 2023, Gov. Beshear raised the starting salary of youth workers in detention centers to $50,000 annually and reclassified youth workers in detention centers to correctional officers. 
  • In March 2023, the Governor signed Senate Bill 162 and House Bill 3. 
  • Reorganized the department by function to better manage the current challenges facing detention facilities. In May 2023, the Governor appointed James Sweatt as executive director and Larry Chandler as deputy director of the Office of Detention. Combined, they bring over 80 years of correctional experience.  
  • Created a Compliance Division to ensure that best practices are identified and followed. 
  • Procured equipment and training personnel to better prevent the introduction of contraband into the facilities. 
  • Requested a wide array of legislative, regulatory and policy changes designed to enhance the safety and security of juvenile facilities. 
  • Rationalized the detention footprint by initiating the process to construct two new, state-of-the-art facilities. 
  • Each detention center and youth development center entered into a memorandum of understanding with at least one law enforcement agency.  
  • In March 2024, appointed Troy Pollock as director of the training academy, brining 35 years of correctional experience to the position and taking the lead on revamping the department’s training curriculum to coincide with the recent training needs assessment conducted by Eastern Kentucky University.  

Governor’s Budget Proposal to Support Security 
When it comes to justice-involved youth, the Governor’s budget provides funding to add 450 additional alternatives to detention placements, two new female-only juvenile detention centers, the renovation of the Jefferson County Youth Detention Center, retrofits to four other detention centers and a facility to provide residential psychiatric treatment for juveniles who would otherwise be placed in detention. The Governor said these safety projects are necessary to make sure there are no low-level male offenders in the same areas as more violent offenders and so males and females are separated. This funding is necessary to comply with Senate Bill 162.