Juvenile Justice

Keeping our children and youth safe is essential to their healthy development. Youth should be held accountable for their actions in developmentally appropriate ways that promote community safety and allow them to grow into responsible citizens. When youth act out they should be held accountable primarily by families, schools, and communities, avoiding contact with the juvenile justice system if at all possible. Youth entering and in the juvenile justice system are entitled to be safe and their rights must be respected. Retaining strong connections to family, community, and culture help youth thrive within the system. The juvenile justice system should be rehabilitative in nature and designed specifically for youth.

Arrests

Status offenses

“Status offenses” are non-criminal behaviors, like skipping school, that could not be charged but for the “status” of being a minor.

8,988 youth were arrested in 2018,

The most common, 29%, were property crimes.

Number of youths arrested (2009-2018)

Youth arrests by race (2018)

  • American Indian, (2.4%)
  • Asian, (0.7%)
  • Black, (22.9%)
  • Unknown, (0.6%)
  • White, (73.3%)
Source: Nebraska Commission on Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice

Disproportionate Minority Contact

Disproportionate minority contact (DMC)

Despite the promise of equal protection under the law, national research shows that youth of color are overrepresented in the juvenile justice system. This overrepresentation often is a product of decisions made at early points of contact with the juvenile justice system. Where racial differences are found to exist, they tend to accumulate as youth are processed deeper into the system.1

Unfortunately, our juvenile justice system lacks uniform ways of collecting data on race and ethnicity. Although disparities exist across system points, different agencies have different ways of counting Hispanic youth in particular. Additional information on the race and ethnicity of youth arrested, on probation, and in adult prison are available elsewhere in this section.

i. U.S. Census Bureau, Population Estimates Program, 2018 Estimates, Table PEPASR6H.
ii. Nebraska Commission on Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice.
iii. JUSTICE, Administrative Office of the Courts.
iv. Analysis based on data from individual facilities including Lancaster County Detention Center, Northeast Nebraska Juvenile Services, Douglas County Youth Center, and the Patrick J. Thomas Juvenile Justice Center.
v. Nebraska Office of Probation Administration.
vi. SFY 2016/17 Annual Reports for Kearney and Geneva Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers.
*Data is input by clerks across the state and may not be well standardized. This may account for the large variance in the “multiracial/other/ unknown” category.
1. “And Justice for Some: Differential Treatment of Youth of Color in the Juvenile Justice System,” National Council on Crime and Delinquency, (January 2007).

Pre-Trial Diversion

Juvenile diversion program

Pretrial diversion programs are based on the belief that many juvenile cases are better handled outside the courthouse doors. These voluntary programs are designed to provide eligible youth an opportunity to demonstrate rehabilitation and make things right with the community, while reducing the cost and burden to taxpayers and courts that come with formal charges being filed. By successfully completing his or her diversion plan, a minor has the opportunity to avoid formal charges in the court and get all record of the matter sealed. By diverting these cases from the court system, counties save significant dollars, making successful diversion programs a win-win.

3,800

youth were referred to the diversion program.

458

of those referred did not participate.

2,469

youth successfully completed diversion.

600

youth did not complete diversion successfully and were discharged for failing to comply or for a new law violation.

77

counties participated in the diversion program.

Community-Based Juvenile Services Aid Program (2015)

231 programs in 65 counties and 1 tribe were funded through the Community-Based Juvenile Services Aid Program in Fiscal Year 2017/18.

  • 185 Direct Intervention
  • 0 Prevention/Promotion Event
  • 15 Direct Service
  • 31 System Improvement

Juvenile Cases

Access to Counsel

Note: In Juvenile Court a case being adjudicated as admit means that it has been accepted to be true.
Source: JUSTICE, Administrative Office of the Courts.

Access to counsel

Juvenile access to counsel

Having an attorney present during proceedings in the juvenile justice system is not only important for youth, but a guaranteed constitutional right. The right to counsel is also enshrined in Nebraska statute 43-272(1). The law is meant to protect children at every stage of legal proceedings, and requires the court to advise youth, along with their parents, of their right to an attorney and that legal counsel can be provided at no cost if they are unable to afford it. Unfortunately, all too frequently youth are not accessing this important protection.

51.5% of children in adult criminal court had an attorney in 2018.

73.5% of children in juvenile court had an attorney in 2018.

Source: JUSTICE, Administrative Office of the Courts.

Probation

Sources: Individual detention centers.
*Includes secure and staff secure detention.
**Lancaster County Detention Center stopped admitting youth as staff secure in 2016.
***Douglas County Youth Center’s data systems are unable to provide data on times detained for 2016.
**** Youth may go back and forth between secure and staff secure several times during the year. As a result these two values may sum much higher than the total number of youth detained at each facility.

In 2018, 4,892 youths were supervised on probation –

• 756 had felony offenses
• 3,723 had misdemeanor, infraction, traffic, or city ordinance offenses
• 1,332 had status offenses
• 2,773 were discharged

Source: Nebraska Office of Probation Administration.

Youth in out-of-home care

2,027 youth supervised on probation were placed in out-of-home care. The mean length of time in out-ofhome care was 3 months.

*All offenses are included for analysis. If a youth had an offense in more than one adjudication type they will be counted accordingly in each category.
Source: Nebraska Office of Probation Administration.

Detention

Sources: Individual detention centers.
*Includes secure and staff secure detention.
** For Lancaster County Detention Center and Douglas County Youth Center if the same youth is admitted under different ages during the year, they will count under each age group.

YRTCs & room confinement

YRTC admissions (2009-2018)1

  • Kearney
  • Geneva
Research associates room confinement with serious consequences for mental and physical health including: – “Increased risk of self-harm and suicidal ideation; – Greater anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances, paranoia, and aggression; – Exacerbation of the on-set of pre-existing mental illness and trauma symptoms; and, – Increased risk of cardiovascular related health problems.”³ Regulations, policies, and practices on when, how, and why juvenile room confinement is used differ among types of facilities. Room confinement should be used as the absolute last resort and only in cases of threats of safety to the individual or other residents and only after other interventions have failed. Room confinement should be time limited; the youth should be released as soon as they are safely able and should never last longer than 24 hours. During confinement, the youth should be closely monitored and seen by mental health professionals. All instances of room confinement should be recorded and reviewed.²
1. Office of Juvenile Services Annual Report.
2. Office of Inspector General of Nebraska Child Welfare, Juvenile Room Confinement in Nebraska, 2017-2018 Annual Report.
3.Haney, C. The Psychological Impact of Incarceration on Post-prison Adjustment. Prison to Home: The Effect of Incarceration and Reentry on Children, Families, and Communities, 2001.

Youth Treated as Adults

In 2018, 220 youth cases were prosecuted in Nebraska adult courts, down from 1,972 in 2013.

Of the 265 youth cases prosecuted in adult criminal court in 2018, 25% were traffic cases, 42% were misdemeanor cases, and 33% were felony cases.

A motion to transfer from juvenile court to adult court was requested in 88 cases and granted in 26.

Adult court had 106 motions to transfer to juvenile court filed, and 116 cases transferred to juvenile court.

*Cases may receive multiple sentencing types, so the total by sentence will add to higher than 220.
Source: JUSTICE, Administrative Office of the Courts.

An age-appropriate response

Research consistently indicates that treating children as adults neither acts as a deterrent, nor does it prevent crime or reduce violence – instead, prosecution in adult court exposes youth to more risks, delays or prevents treatment, and can burden them with permanent records which may act as barriers to future education and employment opportunities. Nebraska law requires that all children age 17 or younger charged with a misdemeanor or low-level felony must have their cases originate in juvenile court. This means that many more children are now receiving the benefit of speedy access to treatment services, a developmentally-appropriate court process aimed at rehabilitation, and the potential to have their records sealed to set them up for a brighter future.

Youth incarcerated in correctional facilities by race/ethnicity (2018)

  • American Indian, 4
  • Black/African American, 30
  • Hispanic, 12
  • Other/Unknown, 2
  • White, 11

Source: Nebraska Department of Correctional Services.