by Nastassia Walsh, Policy Analyst
In May 2013, Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman signed into law Legislative Bill 561, a major reform bill aimed at improving the juvenile justice system in the state. The law shifts the supervision of all juvenile offenders in the community from the Department of Health and Human Services to the Office of Probation Administration in the Nebraska Supreme Court, which places a renewed emphasis on diversion through community-based programs focused on the rehabilitation of youth involved with the criminal justice system. Legislative Bill 561 also provides $14.5 million over the next two years to fund implementation and further development of juvenile justice services, including the hiring of a Director of Juvenile Diversion and a Director of Community-based Juvenile Services to help coordinate juvenile justice diversion services under the Nebraska Crime Commission. This funding will also be used to create 196 new staff positions, including 95 new probation officers (some of whom will be designated as reentry specialists), administrative staff and supervisors, as well as two reentry coordinators to work as the liaisons between the Youth Rehabilitative Treatment Centers and the Office of Probation.
Nebraska’s efforts to provide comprehensive reentry services for youth involved with the criminal justice system have already been underway in Lancaster County, home of the state capital of Lincoln. Through the Second Chance Act Juvenile Reentry Demonstration grant program in FY2011 and FY2012, Lancaster County received federal funds to plan, design, and implement a juvenile reentry program for youth returning to the county from state-operated Youth Rehabilitation Treatment Centers (YRTCs). Launched in October 2012, the program provides a continuum of reentry services starting when youth are confined in YRTCs and continuing until after their release, with a focus on reintegrating youth in schools and engaging families in the reentry process to reduce recidivism and promote other positive outcomes for youth. Since its inception, the program has provided 115 youth with comprehensive reentry services and supports and has received technical assistance from the National Reentry Resource Center.
Local administrators and service providers have already seen positive effects of the reentry program in their community. “At our facility, we are reaping the benefits of this initiative,” said Dan Scarborough, Administrator of YRTC-Geneva, a facility for young women. “The girls are getting more services upon release into the community, and I hope we can expand it beyond Lancaster County at some point so other youth in the state may benefit.”
“I feel that this project has really helped the youth and their families feel valued and supported by the community,” said Nola Derby-Bennett, Executive Director of the HUB-Central Access Point for Young Adults, a nonprofit organization in Lincoln. “They are being offered individualized supportive services that demonstrate to them that the community is determined to help them move forward.”
Recently, Lancaster County received additional Second Chance Act funding in FY2013 that will be used to continue its juvenile reentry program and align the program with the new mandates and opportunities that have come with the passing of Legislative Bill 561. Lancaster County will continue to receive technical assistance on implementation of this program through the National Reentry Resource Center, as it works to ensure that its policies and practices are in line with research on what works to reduce recidivism and increase positive outcomes for youth.