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Statement on Ongoing Crisis Situation at YRTC-Geneva

Omaha, NE – Juliet Summers, Policy Coordinator for Child Welfare & Juvenile Justice at Voices for Children in Nebraska, and Christine Henningsen, Director of Nebraska Youth Advocates, and Scout Richters, legal and policy counsel at the ACLU of Nebraska, issued the following statements today regarding the news that the entire population of girls at the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center at Geneva had been suddenly relocated to the male campus in Kearney:

“Young people in our juvenile justice system deserve meaningful opportunities to work toward a better future. We are gravely concerned for the safety and well-being of the girls committed to Geneva now moving to Kearney. To be committed to Geneva, each girl went through a court hearing and received a court order placing her in the State of Nebraska’s care and custody. As state wards and as minors, they are entitled to healthy and safe living conditions, fair and trauma-informed treatment, and due process of law. Our juvenile code strictly prohibits confinement as a part of an order of probation and requires our children to be placed in suitable homes or institutions. The living conditions at Geneva that were recently exposed, and the sudden decision to move them to a flawed boys campus 100 miles away, without legal process, violate those expectations. This is unacceptable.” – Juliet Summers, Voices for Children in Nebraska.

“Nebraska is consistently at the top of the list for incarcerating girls, yet it appears we don’t have adequate mental health care and programming available. Allegations of the inappropriate use of solitary confinement are particularly concerning as the practice can bring a lifetime of mental health consequences for these girls. It’s time to end juvenile solitary once and for all, close these outdated facilities, and find smart community alternatives that ensure better outcomes for our kids and our state.” – Scout Richters, ACLU of Nebraska

“The Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center at Kearney suffers from inadequate staffing and treatment programming, which have led to a long history of critical incidents of its own. When the juvenile courts with jurisdiction over these girls issued orders committing them to Geneva, judges could not have contemplated a placement at Kearney instead. The sudden relocation raises Constitutional as well as statutory and regulatory red flags. The checks and balances written into our laws to ensure that our children and families voices are heard were ignored. Worse, some girls placed at Geneva from rural areas may not have access to legal counsel to assist them in understanding what rights they have and assert those rights in a court of law.” – Christine Henningsen, Nebraska Youth Advocates.

“It is past time to stop attempting band-aid solutions for the YRTCs. We call on the Department to act swiftly to remove the girls from Kearney, by setting emergency court hearings for them to be safely housed closer to home and family, with access to any needed treatment or support interventions. The first goal of the juvenile court system is to assure the rights of all children to care and protection in safe and stable living environment and aid in the development of their capacities for a healthy personality, physical well-being, and useful citizenship. We as a system have failed these young girls in our state’s care, and we need to take accountability for our neglect. We ask the Nebraska Legislature and Governor Ricketts to take bold action in the coming year toward closure of these outdated, unsafe facilities and replace them by investing in a behavioral health network that functions for youth and their families.” – Juliet Summers, Voices for Children in Nebraska.

About Voices for Children in Nebraska
Voices for Children in Nebraska is the independent voice building pathways to opportunity for all children and families through research, policy, and community engagement. Our policy priorities are guided by research, data, and proven best practices that improve child well-being. We pay close attention to the impact of race, poverty, and geography, and seek to address existing disparities within these issue areas. For more information, visit www.voicesforchildren.com.

About Nebraska Youth Advocates
Nebraska Youth Advocates serves as a resource center for juvenile defense attorneys, promoting best practices in the juvenile justice system. Projects include training, technical assistance, legislative advocacy, and resource development. Project goals are to improve juvenile defense skills and practice in both direct court/legal activities and in the attorney-client relationship. Procedural justice, fair and respectful treatment in the attorney-client relationship, is a guiding framework for the project. For more information, visit http://nebraskayouthadvocates.org

About the ACLU of Nebraska
For over 50 years in Nebraska, the ACLU has worked in courts, legislatures, and communities to protect the constitutional and individual rights of all people. With a nationwide network of offices and millions of members and supporters, we take up the toughest civil liberties fights. Beyond one person, party, or side — we the people dare to create a more perfect union. Learn more at www.aclunebraska.org

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