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County juvenile detention facility to change focus
July 24, 2014 Jerry Purvis   

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A change of focus is in the works as the county juvenile detention facility reorganizes to provide juvenile services in a less structured environment.

The changes were prompted by recent state legislation that focuses more on probation rather than incarceration for most juvenile offenders.

“The Legislature has passed juvenile detention alternative initiatives,” said Ron Johns, director of the county detention center. “They’re trying to find alternatives to detaining kids and want to provide services to keep them in the home if possible. We might be that stopgap when the kid can’t be in the home for a few days for counseling or for anger management.”

Johns said the juvenile facility will now be known as West Nebraska Juvenile Services. Most of the juvenile side of the facility will be converted from “lock secure,” meaning locked doors, to “staff secure,” where the staff keeps the juveniles in the facility.

There are more opportunities for additional revenue by offering a variety of juvenile services in a secure setting, as the state will pay most of the cost.

Johns said the facility will continue to have a small detention area for more serious juvenile offenders, but most of the kids can be in a staff secure environment. Law enforcement professionals have repeatedly said they need a place where they can take juvenile offenders on a temporary basis until their legal and family status can be sorted out. Some of the services offered could include alcohol and drug counseling, anger management, life skills and more.

“We need to provide things for our kids to help them grow up to be responsible adults so they don’t end up in adult detention,” Johns said. “I think this is a start.”

Johns will meet with state law enforcement officials in early August to outline the proposal and see what the state wants to include. “If the state agrees with our plan, I want to push to have it implemented very rapidly,” he said. “I think we could operate with six or eight lock secure beds. We don’t get that many serious offenders. Most kids could do very well in a staff secure facility.”

The facility currently has 32 beds in a lock secure setting. The majority of those would be converted to a staff secure setting, which might require some additional construction.
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