System of graduated accountability proposed for juvenile probationers

The Judiciary Committee met for its first day of hearings Jan. 18 and considered a bill that would change how violations of juvenile probation terms are addressed.

Sen. Bob Krist

LB8, introduced by Omaha Sen. Bob Krist, would authorize the Office of Probation Administration to develop a statewide matrix of immediate, certain and consistent sanctions for violations of court orders.

Krist said implementing a graduated response system is an accepted best practice sponsored by the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI). He said other JDAI best practices currently used in Nebraska have led to a 50 percent reduction in population at the Youth Regional Treatment Center in Kearney.

“Over 20 years of research tells us that youth have better outcomes when provided graduated responses to behaviors,” he said. “Yet our current system mirrors adult statutes and does not allow for age appropriate interventions.”

A probation violation would be considered resolved upon a juvenile’s successful completion of the sanction. Failure to complete a sanction could result in repetition or increased duration of the sanction, or an entirely new sanction.

The matrix also would include a series of graduated incentives to promote compliance and positive behaviors for juvenile probationers. Records of incentives for each youth would be available to the individual’s attorney and the county attorney upon request.

LB8 would retain a probation officer’s authority to file a motion to revoke probation in case of continued failure to complete sanctions or new law violations. It also would allow for detention of an individual if he or she is deemed a safety risk.

Corey Steel, state court administrator, supported the bill. He said targeted intervention would keep low-risk offenders out of detention and set up youth for greater success during their probation term.

“The research is clear: when low-risk youth are detained for technical violations, it is detrimental to their outcomes,” he said. “[The bill] continues to move Nebraska forward to have systems that require accountability while promoting positive behavioral change.”

Christine Henningsen, an attorney from the University of Nebraska Center on Children, Families and the Law, also testified in support of the bill. She said minor probation violations account for one of every four youth currently in detention. Addressing these cases with the sanctions proposed under the bill would be a step in the right direction, she said.

“In order to be effective, sanctions must be certain, immediate, proportionate, fair and tailored to the individual youth,” Henningsen said. “Simply increasing the severity of sanctions does not have a deterrent effect. It is most important to be swift and certain.”

No one testified in opposition to the bill and the committee took no immediate action on it.

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