Children need our care and protection to grow, thrive, and become productive members of our society. When a young person breaks the law, we must respond in a thoughtful way that gives children their best possible chance at success, while still ensuring the safety of our communities.
Unfortunately, the systems we have created to help and protect children often do unintended harm. When it comes to Nebraska’s juvenile justice system, data reveal that:
- We consistently make children, especially teenagers, state wards. A full 40 percent of children made state wards in 2011 were ages 14 and up. This practice is common to ensure children access treatment, but is harmful as it pushes youth deeper into the juvenile justice system.
- We lock youth away at the third highest rate in the nation. We are one of only 6 states where youth incarceration has grown in the past 13 years. In 2011, Nebraska detained 3, 930 youth and incarcerated 589 youth at our Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers (YRTCs).
- Most youth who are sent to our detention centers and YRTCs pose no threat to public safety. They simply don’t belong there.
- The risks of detention and incarceration are enormous for youth. Study after study has shown that youth who are incarcerated are less likely to finish school, more likely to struggle with mental and behavioral health challenges, to find gainful employment, to commit crimes in the future.
Voices for Children in Nebraska supports LB 561 because it offers our state an opportunity to both build a cohesive juvenile justice agency and expand and implement best practices in juvenile justice which will better serve our youth. LB 561 is particularly important, because:
- It strengthens and builds on successful approaches like juvenile diversion, the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI), and the Juvenile Services Delivery Project which are already effectively serving youth and families in certain regions of our state. LB561 will make these approaches more widely available.
- It invests in community-based services and our local counties and towns. Nebraska provides only $1.5 million for juvenile justice services for all of its juvenile justice services combined. With an enhanced appropriation, Nebraska communities can provide for the unique needs of their youth and families in an effective way, keeping children close to home.
- It closes two facilities that are monopolizing and wasting available funding for juvenile justice, serving the wrong youth, and inadequately providing for the needs of those few youth who do need secure care.
- It creates a single, new juvenile justice agency which can help direct reform and ensure our resources are being used in effective way. For years, Nebraska’s juvenile justice services and funding have been housed in three separate agencies, creating confusion and minimizing the impact of promising practices. With grant dollars and services under a single agency, Nebraska will be able to effectively incentivize promising practices that get the best results for our families and youth.
LB 561 provides an important framework for reform. It will allow us to better serve our youth, keep our communities safe and strong, and ensure Nebraska’s future prosperity. We urge the committee to advance it.
 Kids Count in Nebraska 2012 Report, p. 15. Data provided by NDHHS.
“KIDS COUNT Data Snapshot: Reducing Youth Incarceration. “ Annie E. Casey Foundation: February 2013.
 Kids Count in Nebraska 2012 Report. Data provided by NDHHS.
 “Nebraska’s Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers” Voices for Children in Nebraska: Jan 2012. Data provided by NDDHS. Data on total offense profile for youth available through Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement: http://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/ezacjrp/asp/State_Offense.asp.
Mendel, Richard A. No Place for Kids: the Case for Reducing Juvenile Incarceration.