Nebraska Juvenile Justice Reform Update

By Jim Bennett, Reentry Program Specialist, Office of Probation Administration

Juvenile justice reform is well underway in the State of Nebraska with the passage of Legislative Bill 561 introduced by Sen. Brad Ashford (I-Omaha) in May 2013. LB 561 moved all supervision of delinquent juveniles from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Office of Juvenile Services (OJS) to Nebraska’s Office of Probation Administration. Along with that move came $14.5 million to be spent on new services for youth along with a grant program to aid counties focusing on the developing of front-end services for youth. The changes are intended to decrease the dependency on juvenile detention center stays, place more emphasis on rehabilitation, increase family engagement, and provide more services at the community level.

There are several distinct benchmarks for the implementation of several major components of the bill:

July 1, 2013

  • Youth sent to the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers (YRTC) are placed in the care and custody of the OJS with an order of Intensive Supervised Probation.
  • Limitations are set on sending juveniles to secure detention and the YRTCs. Juveniles can only be sent if it is a matter of immediate and urgent need for the protection of the juvenile, protection of others or their property, or if the juvenile is likely to flee jurisdiction.
  • All YRTC commitments will be subject to juvenile court jurisdiction and the reentry process upon discharge from the YRTC.

October 1, 2013

  • OJS authority for new community supervision and evaluations has been eliminated.
  • The DHHS option for status offenders has been eliminated.
  • Probation Administration is responsible for the cost of detention for any juvenile who is post-disposition pending placement, held on a motion to revoke, or on probation at the time of intake.
  • Juvenile evaluations must be completed and returned to the court within 21 days when ordered. OJS evaluations are no longer required and more single-focused evaluations will be the focus.
  • Community and family reentry process is underway for juveniles leaving the YRTCs. The program is being implemented through cooperation between the OJS and Probation Administration. Reentry planning begins at intake to the YRTC, and the facility gives the court and probation a 60-day notification of discharge to adequately prepare for discharge.
  • All new dispositions of law violators and status offenders will be placed with Probation for supervision and service delivery including all costs of service and evaluations. There are no more new commitments to DHHS/OJS.
  • The court has the authority to order needed voluntary services with Probation supervision or service delivery for juveniles charged with law violations and/or 3Bs.
No later than April 1, 2014
  • A formal transition process will be implemented and any cases involving law violators or status offenders remaining with DHHS/OJS will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis by Probation and DHHS/OJS, and an individual transition will be created and adopted with court approval.

In addition, the Nebraska Crime Commission added two new positions to oversee the Community Based Aid funding and Diversion services statewide. Community Based Aid replaced the old “County Aid” funding at the Crime Commission and increased funding to $5 million. Applications for this funding were recently submitted to the Crime Commission for review.

Change of this magnitude can be difficult, but system stakeholders statewide have been working collaboratively to provide training, interpretation, development of services and, most importantly, seamless transition of services for youth and their families. As the Legislature moves into this year’s short session, there will be efforts made to help clarify some of the inevitable questions that have arisen with regards to implementation of the reform since July of last year.

Though this process has not been without bumps along the way, the State of Nebraska remains committed to better outcomes for Nebraska youth and safer communities.