Nebraska Passes Juvenile Justice Reform

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Nebraska’s juvenile justice system will have a new focus on rehabilitation thanks to a bill signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Dave Heineman.

Legislative Bill 561 (LB561), introduced by state Sen. Brad Ashford (I-Omaha), will allocate $14.5 million towards several new services, as well as a grant program to aid counties in treating juvenile offenders.

The bill decreases the state’s dependency on juvenile detention programming,  placing a greater emphasis on youth rehabilitation. The new measure also transfers juvenile offender supervision over to Nebraska’s Office of Probation Administration, which is subordinate to the state’s Supreme Court. Prior to the legislation taking effect, Nebraska’s juvenile populations were instead overseen by the state’s Department of Health and Human Services.

Although nationally rates of juvenile incarceration have been on a downturn, in Nebraska, the number of young people detained increased 8 percent between 1997 and 2010, according to an Annie E. Casey Foundation analysis released this year.

At a news conference at the Capitol in Lincoln, Heineman said the legislation represented “a forward-looking and innovative approach,” adding that LB561 was “one of the most important bills of this legislative session,” according to an Associated Press report.

Ashford said that in Nebraska the average entrance age of offenders in the state’s adult facilities hovered between 19 and 24. According to the AP, Ashford believes the new law will help teenage offenders avoid becoming adult criminals.

“You aren’t only going to solve this violence by putting more police officers in the street,” Ashford said at the press conference. “You’re going to have to get deep into the problems of these kids.”

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