Life as a Number: YRTC's and Juveniles


Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers (YRTCs) have been on the chopping block in the eyes of some due to recent bills introduced by four Nebraska senators. One bill suggests closing the YRTCs in Geneva and Kearney. Some say that is not the way to go.

"We hope to repair one of the most broken juvenile justice systems in the country," said Brad Ashford, Omaha senator.

"I believe that across the state that professionals, parents and community members feel that it is a necessity for youth to be served in a structured safe environment," said Jana Peterson, facility administrator at Kearney's YRTC (YRTC-K).

For others, it is because it boils down to who is primarily effected.

"Studies show that youth who are low-risk, and don't pose a threat, are better served closer to home where they can address family issues, or get them connected to positive role models. Being in large settings have opposite effects. When we look at the kids at YRTC, we see a lot of them going for non-violent offenses," said Sarah Forrest, policy coordinator at Voices for Children.

In a recent study by the National Center of Juvenile Justice, over 1.5 million cases of juvenile delinquency were processed nationwide. Roughly half of those cases involved youth under the age of 16. Correlating that to the YRTC-K, 449 youth were admitted in the same year with a little over two-thirds being age 16. Those numbers include kids that may have only needed to be set straight once.

"A lot of the youth we see, close to 95 percent, we'll never see again. There's statistics that back this up, 95 percent of youth don't come back again. They learn from it. They move on. They're good productive citizens," said Buffalo County Attorney, Doug Kramer.

For Kramer, no matter how high the number is at YRTC-K, he mentions that if youth are not making good choices, then there needs to be places that offer assistance and guidance.

"Some youth need to be locked up and safe for them [to learn]. We need to look at safety for the youth and community," said Kramer.

However, some state senators are saying "please try again."

"[We should] place juveniles who are in the system as close to their communities as possible," shared Ashford.