The Cost of Juvenile Justice: Moving Forward


As the state tries to treat juvenile delinquents closer to home, the transition has been bumpy for some.

Some say more changes will have to be made before the juvenile justice system works well in Nebraska.

As Probation takes over the Department of Health and Human Services' role of caring for kids in the court system, there's been confusion over who pays and who decides what services these minors get.

When troubled teenagers can hop in a car and be on the other side of the state in hours, Hall County Attorney Mark Young says, it's Nebraska’s problem.

"We need to start looking at these as state issues, not as local issues because they really aren't local issues anymore," said Young.

With the passing of LB 561 state lawmakers are moving the state towards local treatment.

Young says, in his community and many others, the services aren't there yet. He worries the counties will see more costs despite state lawmakers promising millions of dollars for new services and grants.

"We had to put a lot of money into that, but you know it's going to take some time to really get it implemented, get the training done and get everybody out there and ready to go," said Senator Al Davis, of Hyannis.

“There's a learning curve that goes along with that. We have to learn to work with Medicaid. We have to learn to work with Magellan," said Joseph Budnick, chief probation officer for District 10.

Budnick’s office is working to take over responsibilities once held by the Department of Health and Human Services. That also means taking over its Office of Juvenile Services budget.

"One of our frustrations was that we did not have funding in the past to help our youth with the services that they needed. This bill has provided us with that," said Budnick.

Lawmakers hope that will keep more kids out of the state's Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers in Kearney and Geneva.

"I think it's a big mistake to say one size fits all and we're going to lock everybody up in this one facility,” said Sen. Davis. “You know if you talk to some people, they'll say that's really more dangerous than the state penitentiary because of some of the people that are there and the supervision issues."

But, solutions for central Nebraska law enforcement carting minors to more temporary detention centers in Lincoln and Madison aren't there.

"It'd be nice for us to have a juvenile holding facility right here because it would be used," said Hall County Sheriff Captain Greg Ahlers.

Lawmakers say that's unlikely. Instead, counties and probation offices are turning to technology and camera systems– when the courts allow it – to save trips and cost.

"Our county judges have done a great job adopting new technology and the court system as a whole has made some technology available," said Young.

Young said the courts need to do more with technology to keep up with the times.

He said he, along with other county attorneys, have talked with state lawmakers about concerns over LB 561. Young said they'll likely be back this session to try to work out its problems.