The Cost of Juvenile Justice: Crunching the Numbers


Tri-City officials say it's costing counties big bucks to take care of juveniles that have landed in the court system, but just how much is unknown.

Because the cost of taking care of minors in trouble with the law is spread over multiple departments and often lumped in with adult costs, it's hard to get a number on the ultimate cost.

One expenditure is transportation.

Hall County deputies make the more than 90-mile trip to juvenile facilities in Madison or Lincoln, on average, 12 times a month.

"[They’re] high paid chauffeurs," said Hall County Sheriff’s Office Captain Greg Ahlers.

Ahlers said their juvenile transports range from five minors to 35 a month.

"We don't have any facilities close to us,” he said. “Our average juvenile transport is pretty close to five hours."

Ahlers said, during that time, deputies aren’t doing other duties.

"That's the problem for the county is that, while this officer is gone, transporting a juvenile or anyone else, there has to be someone else hired to respond to accidents and any other calls for service, plus the other business of the court," he said.

Ahlers said it cost Hall County about $16,178 in man hours in the 2012/2013 fiscal year to do these types of transports.

Minors made up 21.9 percent of prisoners deputies moved in that year.

That’s up over the past three fiscal years. In the 2012/2013 fiscal year, 174 juveniles were transported. That’s compared to 159 in 2011/2012 and 117 in 2010/2011.

But, counties often use more than one agency to transport minors. In Hall County, private transport services and Grand Island Police are also used.

Unlike adults, these juveniles can't be housed in a county jail.

"If a juvenile is being brought back for a court hearing and then going to be returned, the officer has to stay with them through court," said Ahlers.

Ten months into the 2013/2014 fiscal year, Hall County had spent about $9,569 in man hours transporting juveniles. Ahlers said that's nothing compared to the cost of keeping minors in these facilities, at about $240 a day.

"The actual cost to the county of paying these secure facilities to hold our juveniles is pretty much staggering really," he said.

Housing and fuel costs are picked up by Hall County Attorney Mark Young's office, which budgeted $140,000 for juvenile housing alone in the 2013/2014 fiscal year. In the first 11 months of that budget year, the county at spent about $137, 190.

In the three months after LB 561 went into effect, Young said costs went up.

"Hall County spent $16,000 more for juvenile detention costs than we had in the same three month period in the preceding calendar year," he said.

Young said, although costs do fluctuate, he believes the increase is too high to be a coincidence.

"We're just starting to really understand how things are going to work, but unfortunately all the provisions of the law have not really come into effect and there are still a number of areas where really we're still kind of flying blind," he said.

Tri-City officials are trying to get a clearer picture.

Buffalo County Attorney Shawn Eatherton said they're now making a separate line item in the budget for these types of costs.

Stay tuned to NTV News for Part II or this three-part special report. On Tuesday, we’ll talk more about LB 561 and it’s impact on costs and services in the area.