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Neb. lawmakers propose juvenile system reforms

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 23, 2013 at 5:48 pm •  Published: January 23, 2013

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Four Nebraska lawmakers announced a proposal Wednesday to overhaul the state's juvenile justice system and focus on youth mental health.

Omaha state Sen. Brad Ashford said his plan aims to focus on rehabilitating and treating troubled youth rather than confining juveniles. Additionally, Ashford's bill calls for youth entering the juvenile justice system to be screened for mental health, trauma, education history and other risk factors.

Sen. Amanda McGill of Lincoln, a co-sponsor of Ashford's bill, also introduced legislation that would call for youth to undergo mandatory mental and behavioral health screening in kindergarten, seventh and ninth grades. McGill also proposes doctors and schools should have access to treatment by video conference.

"Our vision is to see a state in five to ten years where children are not exposed to violence, where children are not involved in violence," Ashford said. "...The violence will stop if we have the will to pursue these matters aggressively."

The proposed legislation would close Department of Health and Human Services-run Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers in Geneva and Kearney and The Office of Juvenile Services. A new office of Juvenile Assistance would replace those by January 2015, and would subsume the $28 million annual budget for the juvenile services' office.

The Nebraska court system would run the office and oversee juvenile-related services, including probation and detention alternatives. The bill also requests $10 million to invest in a community-based juvenile services aid program, which would help treat juveniles who are wards of the state.

Ashford has said reforming the system is his top priority this year. He and his fellow senators have found that keeping youth in community and family environments helps them more than incarceration.

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