Caretaker diversion programs considered

Cities and counties could establish special diversion programs for certain nonviolent offenders under a bill discussed by the Judiciary Committee Feb. 13.

Sen. Tony Vargas
Sen. Tony Vargas

Under LB1209, sponsored by Omaha Sen. Tony Vargas, a city or county could create a diversion program for defendants who are charged with an eligible offense and are a primary caregiver for a child.

Vargas said separation of a child from an incarcerated parent can have long-lasting effects.

“When incarceration separates a child from their parent, the outcomes for the child are rarely good,” he said. “Kids often enter foster care and the absence of strong family ties impacts a child’s physical, emotional and psychological health.”

Eligible offenses would include any nonviolent felony or misdemeanor violation of a city or village ordinance, excluding any offense classified as a Class I, IA, IB, IC, ID or II felony.

Among the caregiver diversion programs authorized under the bill are parenting classes, family counseling, mental health education and treatment, drug and alcohol treatment, domestic violence education and counseling and job training.

The bill additionally would exclude any offense in which:
• the victim is a person for whom the defendant is the primary caregiver;
• registration as a sex offender is required;
• sexual contact or penetration was involved;
• a threat to inflict serious bodily injury or death on another person occurred; or
• an attempt to conspire, solicit or assist the commission of a felony was made.

Michelle Guilliatt of Lincoln spoke in support of the bill. As someone in the middle of five generations of family members who have been separated by incarceration, she said, she understands the price children pay for their parent’s decisions.

“To have [LB1209] and have the opportunity for education, parenting classes and to create and maintain a support system … can make a better future for these children,” Guilliatt said.

Also speaking in support was Spike Eickholt, representing the ACLU of Nebraska. He said the bill would provide an important alternative to incarceration and traditional imprisonment for nonviolent offenders.

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

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