A leading state legislator says the state juvenile justice system must move from a culture of incarceration to a culture of treatment.
Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha, chairman of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, says his committee will spend a couple of days hearing legislation that aims at nothing short of the transformation of how Nebraska deals with juvenile offenders.
Simply put, Ashford says too many teens are locked up.
“The number of children that are incarcerated throughout Nebraska has reached epidemic proportions,” Ashford tells reporters.
Ashford sponsors five bills himself, including LB 561, which calls for changing the state juvenile justice system from a punishment-based model to a treatment-based model. The measure would create the Office of Juvenile Assistance under the Nebraska Supreme Court. Juvenile centers in Kearney and Geneva would undergo substantial change and treatment would occur in the home when possible.
In total, the Judiciary Committee is to hear testimony on nine bills dealing with various aspects of the juvenile justice system.
The committee is receiving input from a University of Washington assistant professor, Dr. Terry Lee, who is a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist. Lee has been talking with those in the Nebraska juvenile justice system and observing how the state handles juvenile offenders.
While Lee has been spending time in Nebraska, some Nebraska lawmakers have been traveling to observe how other states handle juveniles.
Ashford says he visited juvenile treatment centers located in the state of Washington. One near Seattle, in particular, impressed him.
“And I was extremely impressed by how these juveniles are treated and I must say that the juveniles we did visit at that facility were some very difficult cases; homicides and very difficult kinds of offenses,” according to Ashford.
Ashford is adamant that change must come.
“Let me be very clear. This effort is critical. This effort is essential,” Ashford says. “I do not feel we can wait any more for a real solution to our issues involving juvenile justice.”