Children deserve the best we have to offer them, and investments aimed at improving our juvenile justice system to better meet their needs will reap dividends in the long run.
Douglas County is considering a new children and family court structure and detention center. Our current juvenile court is too small, without adequate waiting space or areas for confidentiality. Our detention facility was built in an era when we had far less understanding of the teen brain; it is over-large and looks like a prison. Although an investment in a new facility does nothing to address larger challenges like too many kids coming into the justice system, disparate outcomes for kids of color and a lack of resources available in communities, the need for change is urgent and apparent. As plans for these facilities develop, what is most important is not the final location or price tag, but consideration of the needs of children and their families coming to court, and what will best serve them. The commitment to investing in something to meet those needs is admirable and should be applauded.
Voices for Children will be watching closely and weighing in as needed to ensure that the final plans reflect a commitment to best practices for youth court, that buildings are trauma-informed and accessible to families, and that funding is specified for the integration of programs and services that can serve the real needs of kids coming to court. The best interests of children should be at the heart of this conversation and we will work to keep it there.
It is also worth noting that, at the same time Douglas County is considering investing in building improvements to enhance the experience of those coming to court and reduce our numbers of youth held in detention, our state Department of Health and Human Services is going the opposite direction, by proposing to spend millions on a fence around the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center at Kearney. The need for a fence has not been demonstrated, and we are gravely concerned that it is a backward investment in a facility which had been working toward an improved culture of rehabilitation. Other states are closing facilities of this type, not doubling down on spending on changes that will make this facility more like a prison. To those outraged by Douglas County’s proposal, we would urge you to consider adding your voice to ours as we protest this needless and wrongheaded taxpayer expense. If you want to be involved or learn more, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org