Nebraska’s juvenile justice system may just be on the verge of a dramatic transformation. It’s not only the reform initiatives that are underway in certain parts of the state that signal change being around the corner. Buried on pages 419-429 of the recent Health and Human Services preliminary budget, is the proposed closure of a living unit at each of our Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers (YRTCs).
Those of you who have followed our work on the YRTCs won’t be surprised that we’re excited about the possibilities that closing these units presents. We’re confident that there are many non-violent, low-risk youth currently at the YRTCs who can be better served in their communities and can more effectively have their needs met.
There is one HUGE problem with the budget request as it currently stands, though. There is no reinvestment of the dollars cut from the HHS budget in the services and communities that will now have to serve youth. While it may be a smart move to shrink our facilities and serve only those youth who need an institutional setting at the YRTCs, cutting over $1.4 million dollars from our limited investments in juvenile justice is not.
Shrinking facility capacity at the YRTCs, removing staff and substance abuse treatment capacity, doesn’t work if we don’t create effective and well-funded alternatives in our communities. If we don’t reinvest we will only make things worse for youth – they will be in overcrowded, understaffed facilities, with fewer treatment options and greater safety risks.
While we aren’t effectively using the money our state puts into the YRTCs, we can’t afford to cut any of our state’s limited juvenile justice dollars. The benefits to our communities, our state, and our young people are too great to sacrifice.