This month we’re taking a look at a strange phenomenon: Nebraska kids that our state treats exactly like adults. We’ve already taken a look at who these youth are and how they come to be considered adults, but we have yet to really delve down into why we’re so concerned about it.
Why does forgetting kids are kids matter so much?
There are two very important reasons – its negative impact on public safety and its negative impact on children themselves.
Most of the laws passed over the years that allow youth to be processed through the adult criminal justice system were designed with an eye on both discouraging youth from committing crimes and protecting public safety.
A number of national research studies have now shown the opposite to be true. Not only do laws easing the prosecution of youth as adults fail to act as a deterrent to crime, they actually increase the likelihood that young people will be arrested for subsequent crimes, especially violent crimes. Public safety is actually harmed when we treat kids like adults.
The negative impact on young people is just as significant. Not only does it take longer for their cases to be resolved, but they are also more likely to sit in pre-trial detention and experience incarceration. Youth in the adult system are therefore more likely to miss crucial moments for needed treatment that can help put them on a path to success.
Finally, children in the adult court system frequently face the negative consequences of permanent, criminal records, which can limit their employment and educational opportunities for the rest of their lives.
So what can we do about it?
In the past eight years, 23 states have made significant legislative changes to make sure that kids are treated like kids, by reforming sentencing guidelines and increasing the likelihood that children will stay in the juvenile justice system.
This coming year, Nebraska has the opportunity to join those other states. We currently have a bill that is just a few votes and a Governor’s signature away from becoming law. LB 464 will help make sure that every kid in the state has an equal chance to have their case heard before the juvenile court and access developmentally appropriate services.
This certainly won’t fix all of Nebraska’s criminal justice problems, but it’s a crucial starting point.
What else do you think can and should be done to make sure that we treat kids like kids?