January 27, 2012
To: Members of the Judiciary Committee
From: Sarah Forrest, Policy Coordinator – Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice
Re: Opposition to LB 972 – Place Youth Residential Treatment Centers under the Department of Correctional Services
All youth, even when they have committed a crime, deserve to have access to quality rehabilitative services. Every year Nebraska’s Youth Residential Treatment Centers (YRTCs) serve approximately 600 youth, committed for a variety of serious and not-so-serious law violations, in a residential setting. The YRTCs have long struggled with providing adequate and effective programming. Both YRTCs have high rates of recidivism and recent complaints have highlighted growing concerns for the safety of both youth admitted to these facilities as well as the staff who care for them.
Voices for Children in Nebraska opposes LB 972, which would transfer the YRTCs to the Department of Correctional Services, because it represents:
1. An increased lack of coordination in Nebraska’s juvenile justice system. LB 972 separates the facilities where juveniles are served from the other services and case management offered under the Office of Juvenile Services (OJS). Transitions back to the community from the YRTCs are already difficult for youth and families, and will likely become more so, as they are transferred between agencies and a new set of strangers enters their lives. Our juvenile justice system in Nebraska already suffers from a lack of coordination and LB 972 would only move to further increase it.
2. A move away from rehabilitation towards confinement. The creation of OJS and its subsequent placement under the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) was to ensure that youth had increased access to the treatment and rehabilitation they deserve. Youth are still growing and changing – they are different than adults and need access to developmentally appropriate services to ensure that they can become productive adults. The Department of Correctional Services does not specialize in services to youth and families. They are an agency that primarily serves adults. Adolescence is a crucial time and our YRTCs should be focused on rehabilitation and developmentally appropriate services.
3. A rejection of national best practice and trends. Over the past few years, many states have made a number of changes to their own equivalents of Nebraska’s YRTCs. After years of high costs, poor results, and a lack of safety for youth and staff, states have chosen to invest in community-alternatives to large youth facilities and have had widespread success. Youth crime, especially violent crime, has continued to fall. This year both New York and California will consider legislation to shut down their youth facilities completely. Texas has restricted their admissions to youth correctional facilities and just last year removed them from the Department of Corrections due to problems with safety and abuse and in hopes of promoting more rehabilitative and effective policies.
4. A failure to address the true, underlying problems. Beyond being unsafe, Nebraska’s YRTCs are monopolizing available juvenile justice dollars in our state, serving the wrong youth, and failing to treat the needs of youth committed to their care, especially those who have committed violent crimes. Nebraska spent over $17 million on serving only about 600 children in 2010. Programming and facilities are clearly failing, given the high recidivism rates at both Kearney (29%) and Geneva (17%). A safer, more affordable, and better public policy would focus on truly reforming our juvenile justice system and YRTCs as opposed to changing management and moving towards a more restrictive environment. The move to the Department of Correctional Services fails to address the clear issues that face youth, staff, families, and communities that are served by our YRTCs.
LB 972 aims to increase safety at the YRTCs by placing them under the Department of Correctional Services. Unfortunately this move will not necessarily improve safety at the facilities or access to care for abused or neglected children. What it will do is continue to fail Nebraska’s youth in need of better rehabilitative services, further complicate our juvenile justice system, and continue to waste taxpayer dollars on ineffective services when so many others that are proven successful for children and youth are being cut.
The YRTCs are in need of change and reform, but LB 972 is the wrong approach for Nebraska’s children and youth. We urge you to oppose it. Thank you for your time and effort on behalf of Nebraska’s kids.