Proposed legislation would close youth centers

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January 24th, 2013

Lincoln, NE – Omaha Sen. Brad Ashford is the lead sponsor of the bill that would close the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers in Kearney and Geneva. It would also abolish the office that oversees them in the executive branch, and replace it with a new office under the Judicial branch. Ashford explained the thinking behind the move:

[audio:https://kvnonews.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/legup1_24_13KVNO01.mp3]

“We must focus our resources on treatment and rehabilitation rather than institutional confinement,” Ashford said.

The legislation expresses the intent to appropriate $10 million to pay for the new office. Omaha Sen. Bob Krist predicted that the effort would save money over the current system:

State Senator Brad Ashford is a member of the Business and Labor and Urban Affairs committees. (Photo Courtesy Nebraska Legislature)

State Senator Brad Ashford is a member of the Business and Labor and Urban Affairs committees. (Photo Courtesy Nebraska Legislature)

“Even if it didn’t, though, I’m going to tell you,” Krist said. “Look you straight in the eye and tell you – it’s the right thing to do. If we don’t spend the money on the front side, we’re going to have a greater bill on the back side,” Krist said.

The change in law would still put juveniles in jail for crimes of violence or other serious matters. They would either be charged as adults or placed in current or future youth detention facilities. However Ashford says most kids in trouble don’t need to be locked up and for that he does not blame the state employees or social workers for the shortcomings of the current way of handling troubled youth:

State Senator Amanda McGill was elected to the Legislature in 2006. McGill serves Nebraska's 26th legislative district. (Photo Courtesy Nebraska Legislature)

State Senator Amanda McGill was elected to the Legislature in 2006. McGill serves Nebraska’s 26th legislative district. (Photo Courtesy Nebraska Legislature)

“It’s not a failure of the people that were working with these children,” Ashford said.

“It’s a failure of the system to identify youth as early as possible and get them help,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Dave Heineman, who heads the executive branch from which the legislation would remove oversight, said he had no comment on the bill.

And a separate proposal bill introduced by Lincoln Sen. Amanda McGill would require behavioral health screening to be part of the required physicals that children receive before kindergarten, seventh, and ninth grades. McGill said she didn’t expect to introduce such legislation until the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut put the question at the forefront for her:

“What can we do about the increasing number of shootings that are happening in our country? I don’t think gun control is the primary solution. I think this is,” McGill said.

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