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A Senate committee passed a bill Wednesday that would allow the Utah Division of Juvenile Justice Services to get a court order to forcibly feed and hydrate inmates in its custody between the ages of 18 to 21
The panel passed HB50 unanimously; it now goes to the Senate floor.
Juvenile Justice director Susan Burke said the proposal comes in response to a situation the division has never had to deal with before.
An 18-year-old inmate has decided to sporadically not eat or drink and the department has no legal power to make him eat to protect his health, Burke said. His health is monitored daily and he is taken to the emergency room when his condition is severe. So far, he has racked up more than $80,000 in medical costs.
"We certainly create a risk of liability to the state if something were to happen to this young man and we're not able to intervene in a more timely manner," Burke said.
Bill Sponsor Rep. Richard Greenwood, R-Roy, said most of the man's medical expenses have been covered by his family's insurance and Medicaid.
"We were fortunate on this, I think, because many of the youth perhaps do not have the coverage that this man had and had that coverage not been there the liability would have been on the state," Greenwood said.
Children can stay under the jurisdiction of juvenile court after they turn 18 until the age of 21 if they are already in the court's jurisdiction and the court feels it is in the best interest of the child to keep him or her in the system, Greenwood said.