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Advocates Secure Wins During Nebraska's 2018 Legislative Session

February 27, 2019
Courtney McSwain

NJJN member 
Voices for Children helped usher in significant wins for youth justice in Nebraska during the 2018 legislative session. The bill LB 670, which passed in April 2018 and went into effect last summer, created clarifying rules for previously passed legislation, as well as significant changes to youth detention.  

Notable reforms include:  

  • Changes to reporting the use of solitary confinement: A previously signed law requires youth detention facilities to report on their use of solitary or room confinement. LB 670 ensures that such reporting can be disaggregated for more effective analysis and added a penalty whereby facilities that fail to report accurately risk penalizing action through state licensing bodies. 

  • Requiring counties to consider racial and ethnic disparities when applying for grants under the Community-Based Juvenile Services Aid Program. Funds are now available for counties to expand community-based services.  Such funds can be used to create or shore up wrap-around services meant to deter youth from detention as well as build new non-detention facilities or retrofit old facilities for community-based services. With changes passed in LB 670, counties will have to include measures to address racial and ethnic disparities in their proposals to receive such grant funds.  

  • Changing the detention statute to remove multiple harmful rationales for judges to detain youth. Judges will no longer be able to detain youth under the age of 12, using the rationale of risk to harm of self, in cases where parents have refused parental responsibility, or for lack of a more appropriate placement, such as waiting for an evaluation.  

Voices for Children Policy Coordinator Juliet Summers notes that the changes to the detention statute will substantially reform the way alternatives for youth are considered.  

“The shift in who can legally be detained by the courts forces all parties to come up with better alternatives,” Summers says. “For example, under the old statute, children have been held in detention because shelter beds were full, or because they ran from placement and the facility wouldn’t immediately accept them back. Now, municipalities are forced to come up with better solutions, and are doing so. For instance, as a result of LB 670, the cities of Lincoln and Omaha have each started the process of opening 24-hour reception centers so youth have a safe space to be while parties problem-solve next steps in the case.”  

Looking forward, Nebraska’s 2019 legislative session includes several youth justice reform bills that Voices for Children is carefully monitoring and taking action on. Key issues include: 

  1. Solitary confinement reform efforts to prohibit administrative, extended solitary confinement of minors, while making sure they maintain access to parental and attorney advisement, educational materials, running water, toilet facility and adequate lighting.  

  1. Confidentiality legislation that would lay out automatic sealing processes and a clearer path for petitioning the court to have one’s records retroactively sealed; 

  1. Multiple school-to-prison pipeline bills that address due process around suspension and expulsion, the appropriateness of and standards around the use of peace officers in schools, and custodial interrogation of minors among other issues; and  

  1. Efforts to eliminate mandatory minimums for minors charged in adult court.  

Click HERE for more information on Voices for Children and their legislative priorities. 

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