LB-4, recently proposed by Omaha Senator Brad Ashford, plans to set the minimum sentence to 30-years-to-life for juveniles who may choose to commit crimes. Ashford also mentioned in the past his wish to close Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers (YRTC). Both scenarios are designed to help troubled youth.
"[The goal is] to identify juveniles who have several mental, or minor, health issues as soon as possible so they won't get further or deeper in the system," said Ashford.
Disproportionate Minority Contact Coordinator, Doug Kramer, of Buffalo County, does not shy away from the fact that juveniles should be contained.
"I honestly think there is. Some youth need to be locked up. [It's what's] safe for them. We need to look at safety for the youth and community," shared Kramer.
Voices for Children representative Sarah Forrest would agree that Kramer and Ashford should re-think their decisions.
"Studies show that youth who are low-risk and do not pose a threat are better served closer to home where they can address family issues, or get connected to positive role models," mentioned Forrest.
Ashford proposed LB-44 in light of the Supreme Court ruling, Miller vs. Alabama, which held that a life without parole sentence is unconstitutional for juvenile offenders. Ashford says YRTC's, and the like, are not doing enough and life behind bars is what could bring better results in the long run.
"The screening for young people as they progress through juvenile justice does not identify early enough the problems they have. Hopefully, the goal is to make children well and to bring them back to the community so they can become productive citizens," said Ashford.
Lawmakers are trying to find a new sentence that balances the need for justice with the recognition that adolescent brains haven not fully developed.