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Statement on Proposed Douglas County Juvenile Justice Center

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 voices@voicesforchildren.com

Thank you to taking the time to share!


  1. REPLY
    LaVon Stennis Williams says

    Not all opposition is based on final location or costs. I am opposed to building because our youth and families need a reformed system more than a new building. I am also concerned with the fact that the voice of family or that of system involved youth is neither included in the advisory group nor those being interviewed for the study which lead to this recommendation. As I keep asking, for a youth who is languishing in our current system waiting for his or her case to meander through the system or for the parents hopefully searching for support and services, do you think it matters to them what type of building is built. This new structure provide symbol over substance and does nothing to address those system flaws which harm our system involved youth– delayed case processing, long stays in detention, overworked legal counsel and racial and ethnic disparity.

    • REPLY
      Amy Lillethorup says

      Hi LaVon,

      Thank you for the message. Someone from our office should be responding to your email shortly.

  2. REPLY
    Mary Ingram says

    What if we could reduce the need for juvenile prisons? Community Service is widely used as a punishment in our judicial system. When you hear the term community service, do you think of it as a punishment or a privilege?
    It began in 1966 in California when it was implemented as a sort of community payback approach and quickly spread throughout the country. I believe this works when the service project is connected to the crime. An example is a teen is arrested for painting graffiti on a fence. The community service is to have the juvenile repaint the fence – a true sense of restorative justice. Today, our juvenile justice programs routinely require a set number of hours of community service. By doing this, are we sending the message that community service is a form of punishment; a negative experience that should be avoided? And to make matters worse, I have also heard comments like “All he got was community service”. This statement makes it almost a laughable form of punishment. We can revolutionize our judicial system by making a simple adjustment in how we portray community service.
    We should encourage all children to connect with their community. Teaching civic responsibility can be empowering! I have been unable to find any solid research done on the effectiveness of using community service as a punishment. But what I do have are hundreds of hours of personal experience and observation as a former diversion officer.

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