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NEWS RELEASE: Advocates Urge Action to Protect Youth in Custody

For Immediate Release
March 19, 2020 1 P.M. CDT

LINCOLN, Neb. – Thursday, Nebraska advocacy organizations and individuals sent a cosigned letter to Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Heavican and Court Administrator Corey Steele, urging planning and action to protect youth who are incarcerated and youth in congregate care group homes from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Public health experts have warned that people who are in enclosed spaces are uniquely vulnerable to the outbreak. In Nebraska, that includes youth held in county juvenile detention facilities, Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers, and the Nebraska Correctional Facility for Youth. Youth in out-of-home congregate care group homes are also at increased risk.

The letter asks the Nebraska Supreme Court and Court Administration to craft and share an emergency plan addressing COVID-19 in the juvenile justice system.

Recommendations include 

  • Instructing judges and probation officers to immediately halt new admissions to juvenile detention and correctional facilities
  • Prioritizing and facilitating the removal of youth from these facilities whenever feasible.
  • Ensuring communication to youth on prevention, access to medical care, and access to community-based support.
  • Creating transitional plans for youth released from custody and congregate care to ensure continued access to housing, care and basic needs.
  • Reforming probation requirements to eliminate in-person meetings as much as possible and allow youth to travel to access medical care.

“We can’t let the justice system forget our youth in this current crisis,” said Juliet Summers, policy coordinator for child welfare and juvenile justice with Voices for Children in Nebraska. “Nebraska youth who are in custody are going to have real trouble practicing proactive measures to keep themselves safe. There’s also risk of increased harm if we cut off critical social support in the name of prevention. This unprecedented moment calls on all of us to come together and urgently find solutions that will protect our youth, their families, and the staff who work to support them.” 

The full letter is available for download.

Cosigners include Voices for Children in Nebraska, Nebraska Appleseed, RISE Nebraska, the ACLU of Nebraska, GLSEN Omaha, Black and Pink, and juvenile defense attorney Christine Henningsen.

For interview requests with the ACLU of Nebraska, please email Sam Petto at spetto@aclunebraska.org.

For interview requests with Voices for Children, please email Amy Lillethorup at alillethorup@voicesforchildren.com

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