YRTC and juvenile justice changes advanced

Senators advanced a bill from general file April 23 that would change juvenile justice and youth rehabilitation treatment center (YRTC) provisions.

LB561, as introduced by Omaha Sen. Brad Ashford, would have eliminated the Office of Juvenile Services and potentially closed the YRTCs located in Kearney and Geneva by 2015 in favor of a community-based rehabilitation approach.

A Judiciary Committee amendment, adopted 30-0, replaced the bill. Rather than close the YRTCs as originally proposed, the amendment would require the Children’s Commission to make recommendations on the role of YRTCs in the juvenile justice system and any needs for additional juvenile mental and behavioral health services.

The amendment also clarifies that juveniles could not be sent to YRTCs unless it were necessary for the protection of the juvenile and the public or because the juvenile likely would flee the court’s jurisdiction. The Office of Probation Administration, in cooperation with the Office of Juvenile Services, would be required to implement a family- and community-involved re-entry process for juveniles leaving the YRTC.

“The [YRTCs] are assets to the state, but they are assets that need to be much better coordinated and reformed,” Ashford said.

Additionally, the amendment would:
• appropriate $10 million annually to the County Juvenile Services Aid Program and rename it the Community-Based Juvenile Services Aid Program, to promote the development of community-based care across the state;
• eliminate the Office of Juvenile Service’s community supervision, parole and evaluation authority and transfer those services to the Office of Probation Administration on July 1, 2014;
• create Intensive Supervised Probation for cases in which all levels of probation supervision and options for community-based services have been exhausted and committing the juvenile to the YRTC is necessary;
• create the director of Juvenile Diversion Programs position within the Crime Commission to assist in the creation and maintenance of juvenile pre-trial diversion programs and community-based services;
• expand the Nebraska Juvenile Services Delivery Project to include community supervision, evaluations and the re-entry process for juveniles leaving the YRTCs. The project would be implemented statewide in a three-step process starting July 1, 2013 through July 1, 2014;
• require that juveniles complete evaluations and return to the court within 21 days after adjudication of jurisdiction; and
• amend the New Markets Job Growth Investment Act to authorize social-impact projects related to the juvenile justice system.

Ashford said many Nebraska juveniles are dually adjudicated because they are state wards and also are in the probation system.

“It is impossible to monitor these juveniles when they are handled between systems,” he said. “We need one system where probation officers have more direct access to community services and data from one agency.”

The amendment also includes provisions from four other bills. LB463, introduced by Ashford, would add a juvenile judge to the Douglas County Separate Juvenile Court. LB562, also by Ashford, would provide probation officers information to make decisions regarding crossover youth.

LB86, originally introduced by Lincoln Sen. Amanda McGill, would place the supervision of staff-secure juvenile detention facilities with the Jail Standards Board of the Nebraska Commission on Law Enforcement.

And LB471, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Colby Coash, provides that a juvenile would not be required to undergo an evaluation prior to his or her commitment to the Office of Juvenile Services if one already has been completed in the past 12 months or if an addendum to a previous evaluation would be appropriate.

Coash supported the amendment, saying that separate options to meet the mental health and behavioral needs for both low- and high-level offenders should be available locally to juveniles.

“We are reforming our model and we’re catching up to what we know is the way that you deal with kids,” he said.

Ashford offered, and later withdrew, an amendment that would have reduced the proposed annual County Juvenile Services Aid Program funding from $10 million to $5 million.

The bill advanced to select file on a 29-0 vote.

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