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Access to Juvenile Justice System Services

Kids are different than adults.

On its surface that’s a fairly simple, obvious statement. If you’ve spent any time around children of any age whether they’re cute, tiny babies, precocious preschoolers, or teenagers giving you attitude, you know it’s true. Not only do kids look different than adults, they act differently, and they need different things.

These very simple observations that we all make in our daily life are increasingly being confirmed by scientific research. Kids are still developing. Even a 6-foot-tall, 16-year-old still has plenty of growing and changing left to do. Their brain, especially the part that helps them connect all actions and consequences, isn’t fully formed yet, which makes it easier for them to make bad decisions.  It also means that the things we might do to get an adult to change their behavior simply don’t work for kids.

Unfortunately, the way our state treats kids often fails to take their fundamental differences into consideration. This is especially true when it comes to kids who make mistakes and break the law.

Every year, we choose to forget that hundreds of Nebraska kids are kids by putting them into our adult criminal justice system. Although they are all eligible to have their cases heard in juvenile court, created specifically for kids, we end up treating them just like adults. They pay the same fines, they sit the same jails, they serve the same sentences, and in many cases they face the same permanent criminal records which limit their future opportunities.

This isn’t a problem that’s unique to Nebraska. But what is unique about our state is that we are part of a shrinking number of states that haven’t taken action to limit youth involvement in the adult criminal justice system.

Voices for Children in Nebraska supports AM 1674 to LB464 because it makes a number of important changes that will continue this Legislature’s work to reform our juvenile justice system. Most importantly, it ensures that more of Nebraska’s young people will be able to access the evidence-based, developmentally-appropriate services that are increasingly available in our juvenile justice system.



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