Over the few final days of bill introduction, Senators have introduced a number of proposals that have the potential to ensure a brighter future for many of our vulnerable youth by making crucial improvements to Nebraska’s juvenile justice system.
“For many years, Voices for Children has been advocating for changes that will allow our juvenile justice system to truly meet the needs of the youth who come through its doors,” said Executive Director, Carolyn Rooker. “We are encouraged by the proposals put forward by Senators that will remove youth from harmful, inappropriate environments, and allow them to access the services and supports they need to succeed closer to home. We are hopeful that this legislative session will be another session for children.”
Rooker praised the focus on keeping youth out of the juvenile justice system, creating alternatives to detention, and investment in community-based services. “Too many low-risk and non-violent youth are being served inappropriately and exposed to conditions that make them more likely to have further involvement in the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Nebraska’s Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers (YRTCs), while well intentioned, are serving too many low-risk youth and at the same time are unable to meet the needs of those youth who do need secure care,” said Rooker. “With resources in the community to serve youth in different ways, we can also focus our attention on providing better, treatment-oriented alternatives to the YRTCs that allow youth to remain close to their families and community.”
The proposals put forward over the past two days include a measure that will allow all cases involving children and youth to originate in juvenile court. Nebraska is one of only a few states that gives prosecutors wide discretion in deciding where to file cases. Over 90 percent of juvenile cases filed in adult court are for misdemeanors. “Children and youth are not little adults,” said Rooker. “Allowing all cases to originate in juvenile court will ensure that all youth have a chance to access the services they need for a successful transition to adulthood. This is a move that is long overdue.”