Nebraska Chief Justice Mike Heavican, in his annual State of the Judiciary address, told lawmakers strides have been made in juvenile justice.
Heavican, delivering his 9th annual address to the Unicameral, emphasized progress in helping troubled juveniles and vulnerable adults, as he stated the courts take the state motto – Equality Before the Law – seriously.
“The special mission of Nebraska’s courts is to provide citizens with an open, fair, efficient, and independent forum for the resolution of disputes and with what our motto promises: equality before the law,” Heavican stated in opening the speech.
Heavican says four fundamental principles guide the courts in addressing the problem of dealing with troubled juveniles: fewer juveniles should become wards of the state or be incarcerated and placed in group homes, more juveniles need to be treated in home or in a community setting, parents and guardians need to be involved in a child’s rehabilitation, and local community providers should be used.
The changes approved by the Unicameral last year have already borne fruit, according to Heavican, who said fewer juveniles have been taken from their homes, placed in group homes, or locked up.
“There has been an increase in the use of in-home and community-based services over the past six months. Out of state placements have also decreased which is a significant step toward keeping youth in Nebraska near their families and support groups,” Heavican said.
The Chief Justice did say more needs to be done, especially in rural Nebraska which too often lacks the community providers to keep juvenile offenders close to home.
He said the newly-created Office of Public Guardian has helped many Nebraskans unable to make responsible decisions due to disability or mental illness.
“In conclusion, I am proud of the work the judicial branch does to ensure that our state motto has meaning,” Heavican stated.
AUDIO: Chief Justice Mike Heavican delivers the State of the Judiciary address. [22 min.]