When children and youth break the law, our state needs to respond in a way that holds the young person accountable for their actions, protects public safety, and puts them on a better path toward a productive, successful adulthood.
Last year, Nebraska took an important step toward making this vision of how our justice system should work a reality. The Legislature and Governor passed a comprehensive bill that focused on providing needed supervision and services to youth and families close to home and reducing the unnecessary use of juvenile detention and incarceration.
New evidence-based services are being created across our state that are holding youth accountable in effective, appropriate ways. In the long run, the stronger juvenile justice system Nebraska is building will benefit children, families, public safety, and our state’s bottom line.
That being said, one large obstacle remains to effectively holding youth accountable in our state: many of the children and youth who break the law in Nebraska aren’t able to access the services our state is specifically building for them because their cases are heard in the adult criminal justice system.
Kids are different than adults and what works with adults isn’t effective for children and youth, National studies have shown that there are poor outcomes when kids are in the adult criminal justice system. They are actually more likely to commit crimes in the future than those tried in juvenile court. What’s more, children and youth in the adult justice system face permanent criminal records that limit their ability to attain education and employment, and thus to become successful, taxpaying citizens.
In 2012, over 1,600 Nebraska youth went directly into the adult criminal justice system. For the vast majority, a misdemeanor was their most serious offense.
The Legislature will soon have an opportunity to bring many of these young people back to the juvenile justice system, protect public safety, and treat kids like kids. LB464 is an essential piece of making our juvenile and criminal justice systems more effective.