On Thursday, December 6, nearly 250 Nebraskans gathered in Lincoln for Voices for Children’s first ever Juvenile Justice Summit. For the past 25 years, Voices for Children has been working to improve Nebraska’s juvenile justice system, but we know we haven’t gotten where we need to go for children and youth.
The juvenile justice summit was an opportunity for a range of stakeholders to begin a broader conversation about how Nebraska’s system functions and what changes need to be made so that youth in the juvenile justice system are put on a path towards a bright future.With the generous support of the Woods Charitable Fund, Boys Town, Douglas County’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, the Platte Institute, and the Nebraska Juvenile Justice Association, participants heard from a number of national and local experts on juvenile justice reform.
So just where does Nebraska go from here? Experts shared some of their thoughts:
- Reducing Nebraska’s Reliance on Juvenile Incarceration: The United States is alone among developed nations in its frequent use of incarceration, which over time has proved to be costly, ineffective, and dangerous for youth. Nebraska currently incarcerates about 600 youth a year. Almost ¾ have never committed a violent offense. Bart Lubow of the Annie E. Casey Foundation recommended reducing the use of incarceration, which is better for youth and will free up resources for investment in other areas of the juvenile justice summit.
- Decreasing the Number of Filings in Adult Court: Nebraska is one of the few states in the nation that frequently processes nearly half of children and youth through adult court, where few rehabilitative opportunities are available. Dr. Anne Hobbs, director of the Juvenile Justice Institute, pointed out the links between adult court involvement and higher rates recidivism.
- Creating a System Consistent with the Needs of Children: Youth with involvement in Nebraska’s juvenile justice system shared their desire for more consistency, more contact and support from family and other significant adults in their lives, and more voice and choice in juvenile justice cases. Dr. Kayla Pope talked about the need to build trauma-informed juvenile justice systems acknowledging the mental health needs and histories of youth who come through its doors.
- Bolstering Community-Based Services: Many states rely on incarceration and detention because of a lack of community-based juvenile justice services. Betsy Clarke and Jim McCarter from Illinois shared the success of the Redeploy Illinois program in improving community safety, effectively serving youth, and saving state dollars. Jeanette Moll and Marc Levin presented a paper on Nebraska’s juvenile justice system that highlighted the need for greater County Aid dollars.
Our hope is that organizations, stakeholders, and policymakers continue to build on what we know is working here in Nebraska and around the country.
The juvenile justice summit is just the beginning of our work over the next few years to ensure that youth receive the right services, at the right time, in the right way, so that they are firmly on the path to a successful adulthood.