Expansion of problem-solving courts advanced

Problem-solving courts could be used in more cases under a bill advanced by lawmakers March 1.

Problem-solving court programs accommodate offenders already in the criminal justice system who have specific problems—including drug abuse and domestic violence—that cannot be addressed adequately in a traditional court setting.

LB919, introduced by Gothenburg Sen. Matt Williams, would allow new categories of problem-solving courts to address problems related to veterans, mental health, driving under the influence and reentry.

Williams said problem-solving courts not only save taxpayers’ money but also provide better outcomes for nonviolent offenders.

“Rather than take these low-level offenders and put them in prison, we have the ability to take them through a process that works out very well,” he said. “These courts work, cost less money and [offenders] have a much better chance of returning to a normal, productive life.”

Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha spoke in support of LB919. He said problem-solving courts help certain populations like veterans to help themselves.

“We have a group of people who come back from service and find themselves with PTSD or any number of issues at a point where their life is out of control,” Krist said. “Besides the fact that [problem-solving courts] are saving us money, they’re helping return veterans to [stability].”

Crete Sen. Laura Ebke also supported the bill. Observing a problem-solving court helped her to see just how beneficial the program is to everyone involved, she said.

“As a whole, it seems to me that these problem-solving courts are better for the offenders who are then held accountable, it’s better for taxpayers who will be saved from paying for extended incarceration and it’s better for society in the long run,” Ebke said.

Following the adoption of a technical amendment, the bill advanced to select file on a 35-0 vote.

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