Focusing on services to young people, access to the justice system and sentencing alternatives, Chief Justice Michael Heavican of the Nebraska Supreme Court delivered his State of the Judiciary address to the Legislature Jan. 29
Juvenile justice is being reformed throughout the nation, Heavican said, and Nebraska’s efforts have focused on young people who are charged in juvenile court with breaking the law and status offenses.
Transferring supervision of juvenile offenders from the state Department of Health and Human Services to the Office of Probation Administration has reduced the number of young people who are made wards of the state in order to obtain rehabilitative services, he said.
Heavican also cited the judicial branch’s success in providing alternatives to detention in order to more appropriately address juvenile behavior. For example, he said, the number of boys admitted to the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center (YRTC) at Kearney fell from 450 to approximately 175 in the last three years.
Similarly, the number of girls admitted to YRTC at Geneva was reduced from 140 to approximately 50 during the same time period, he said.
“This significant reduction is a direct result of the efforts of our juvenile courts and probation staff providing intervention and treatment services closer to home for young people and their families,” Heavican said.
He said the courts also continue to work to ensure consistent access to justice in Nebraska through a pilot program to provide all court clerk services through one office, improved language access and computerized case management.
“We are fortunate to be one of the few states that has established a statewide system which enables us to share and analyze case information across jurisdictional boundaries and promotes consistency for attorneys and citizens who interact with the courts,” Heavican said.
The chief justice also noted progress in reforming the state’s adult criminal justice system, particularly in the area of sentencing alternatives. Approximately 80 percent of individuals involved in the justice system struggle with alcohol and drug abuse, he said, and problem-solving courts have helped to address those issues.
“This is one of the most successful and cost-effective responses to the problem of addiction and associated crime,” Heavican said, “both nationally and in Nebraska.”
The state’s Specialized Substance Abuse Supervision program—which allows otherwise prison-bound substance abusers to be supervised intensively by probation while receiving treatment—also has been successful, he said.
Heavican said both programs have provided substantial cost-savings to the state and reduced recidivism rates.
“Whether through sentencing alternatives, specialized programs, services or technology, the courts and probation continue to collaborate with the other two branches of government,” he said. “We also work with both public and private entities to confront these criminal justice challenges as we strive to improve the lives and safety of all Nebraskans.”