Lawmakers told treatment critical for juvenile offenders

2013-12-19T16:30:00Z 2013-12-19T21:57:11Z Lawmakers told treatment critical for juvenile offendersBy KEVIN O'HANLON / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com
December 19, 2013 4:30 pm  • 

Two members of a special committee that just issued a report on how to fix Nebraska's juvenile justice system told lawmakers Thursday that adequate treatment of youthful offenders is critical.

"It's not just warehousing them," said Martin Klein, deputy Hall County attorney and a member of the Juvenile Services Committee of the Nebraska Children’s Commission. "We're trying to help them. That is what we want ... to do for our kids."

State Probation Administrator Ellen Brokofsky discussed the report with members of a special legislative committee.

Brokofsky said treatment programs -- both in juvenile facilities and in communities -- must use the so-called "therapeutic milieu," which is often used in psychiatric hospitals and involves prescription of particular activities and social interactions according to a patient's emotional and interpersonal needs.

"That would require considerable change," she said.

The report also said Nebraska must create a separate facility to treat its most violent juvenile offenders. Now, most of them are housed with middle- and low-level offenders in Kearney, although the state also has juvenile facilities at Geneva and Hastings.

Omaha Sen. Brad Ashford, chairman of the Legislature's Judiciary Committee, said violent offenders must be identified and housed separately so medium- and low-level offenders can be treated in safer environments.

The Legislature created the commission in 2012 through a bill (LB821) that was brought in reaction to troubles that played out during foster care reform efforts and privatization of services for state wards, including foster care children and families.

The commission was created as a way for collaboration among state, local, community, public and private stakeholders in child welfare and juvenile justice programs and services. It has 18 members appointed by the governor and Sen. Colby Coash of Lincoln as an ex-officio member representing the Judiciary Committee.

The committee also recommended, among other things, that lawmakers:

* Make children in the juvenile justice system a priority.

* Change state law so all juvenile law violations (excluding minor traffic offenses) originate in juvenile court.

* Change state law to require that all youth have legal counsel and adequate funding for that requirement.

* Consider changing state law to establish separate juvenile court districts statewide.

* Establish adequate statewide mental and behavioral health and substance abuse services for juveniles.

Reach Kevin O'Hanlon at 402-473-2682 or kohanlon@journalstar.com.

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