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, Nebraska’s juvenile justice system relies too much on costly, ineffective practices that are harmful to youth and their future. Study after study has shown that most youth who are detained or incarcerated pose little threat to public safety. Once incarcerated, however, they are less likely to finish school and to find gainful employment and more likely to struggle with mental and behavioral health challenges and to commit crimes in the future.
Voices for Children in Nebraska supports LB 561 because it offers our state an opportunity to better serve our youth by building on best practices and what does work in our juvenile justice system. Specifically, LB 561:
- Prevents children from entering the juvenile justice system unnecessarily: Pretrial diversion programs hold youth accountable for their actions, provide restitution to victims, and link children and families to needed services without court involvement. LB 561 invests in these approaches and creates new positions that will help counties develop, implement, and sustain these effective, cost-saving programs.
- Expands access to community-based services by supporting counties: LB 561 appropriates $10 million to the Community-based Juvenile Services Aid Program for Counties to promote the development of community-based care across the state. Community-based services are a critical component of allowing Nebraska communities to provide for the unique needs of their youth and families closer to home, a factor proven to increase the success of treatment.
- Creates a statewide system that responds to the need of the child: Too often children in Nebraska are made wards of the state to access services. LB 561 expands the Juvenile Services Delivery Project which allows children to remain in their communities on Probation, while effectively accessing services.
- Effectively bring children back to their families and communities: Many youth who leave correctional placements have difficulty adjusting to life back home and difficulty accessing services. This increases the likelihood that they will re-enter the juvenile justice system. LB 561 creates a Community and Family Reentry Process for youth leaving a YRTC to more effectively reenter their communities with the involvement of their families.
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 ask you to advance it.
Mendel, Richard A. No Place for Kids: the Case for Reducing Juvenile Incarceration.