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YJAM series: Choosing not to Prosecute Children

In elementary school, children are still learning to use the dictionary, parse words and stories for meaning, and multiply and divide fractions. They have barely begun to explore American history and civics, much less crime, punishment, and legal rights and consequences.

However, Nebraska has no minimum age for charging children in the juvenile court. In fact, 45 children age twelve and younger were admitted to Nebraska’s juvenile detention facilities in 2013. Children young enough to still cuddle a blankie are spending nights in our juvenile lock-ups.

In contrast, seventeen states have taken steps to protect children from facing court proceedings they are too young to adequately comprehend.  Most of these states have set the minimum age for delinquency filing at age 10.


Setting a minimum age for delinquency charging acknowledges that very young children lack the same reasoning and comprehension abilities as older youth and adults. When a nine-year-old acts out, he may not fully understand why he is doing it, much less what the possible consequences and complicated legal ramifications might be.

Thankfully, Nebraska is already investing in a growing body of community-based resources available to help families handle troublesome child behavior. We also have a statutory mechanism where a juvenile court can take jurisdiction over a child and get services in place without having to put the child herself on trial.

Given that we have these options, we believe that Nebraska should move away from criminalizing kids who are too young to understand the legal proceedings against them.

What do you think?

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