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Nebraska officials face overcrowding at juvenile center

November 3, 2017

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — An eastern Nebraska county is searching for answers as it grapples with overcrowding at a youth detention center.

The Lancaster County Board of Commissioners met Thursday to discuss how to better deal with recent crowding problems at the Youth Services Center in Lincoln, the Lincoln Journal Star reported .

Board members said the center’s problem is that there’s not enough space for high-risk boys, while there are open beds for lower-risk boys and girls. Many of the boys already have been through the court system and are waiting to be placed either in group homes or other therapeutic settings, which is the state’s responsibility, said Todd Wiltgen, chairman of the board.

Wiltgen said 36 of the 38 teenagers in the detention center Thursday had already been adjudicated by the court.

Shelli Schindler, director of the center, asked the board to either let her hire staff to house a new unit or begin enforcing a contract with state probation, and not accept teenagers if the center is full.

But Wiltgen said it’s counterintuitive to add a new unit when the main goal of juvenile justice is to find alternatives to detention.

“For me it’s not a financial issue. I think it’s best for kids not to be in detention if they don’t have to,” he said. “If we are operating another unit, all that will happen is kids will spend more time in units where they don’t need to be.”

The board delayed a decision until next week in hopes that a steering committee on juvenile justice can shed light on what kind of community-based services are needed.

“The county would rather make investments in alternatives than expanding detention,” Wiltgen said. “But in order for us to make a decision we need the data. We need the information. ... We aren’t getting the answer. And it’s frustrating.”


Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, http://www.journalstar.com

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