The Juvenile Code Project is a major revision of the Nebraska Juvenile Code. The revision process included reviewing codes in other states, the literature regarding the effect of the law on child protection and juvenile justice, and assessing approaches and philosophies that appear to have positive results for the community, children and families. This project was partially funded by the Nebraska Court Improvement Project. It was also supported by the University of Nebraska - Lincoln's Center on Public Policy.
The proposed revised juvenile code attempts to clarify and standardize procedures affecting the legal status of children and families. It is divided into four main areas:
- children in need of state protection (abused, neglected, dependent children)
- children in need of state supervision (status offenders)
- children in need of state rehabilitation (delinquency cases)
- children in need of mental health services (mental health commitments)
The proposed code also attempts to spell out the responsibility and authority for children arising from governmental intervention. It recognizes the tension and balance of responsibility and authority between the department and the juvenile court, as well as, specifying the stages at which the responsibility and authority of either agency originates and terminates. Finally, it describes the extent and limits of each agency's responsibility and authority.
Definitions in different sections of the juvenile code will also be refined. Exposure to domestic violence is defined as a form of child abuse. Children in need of state supervision are restrictively defined. And reasonable efforts are defined rather than just referred to.
In addition to these goals of clarification and standardization, the proposed revised juvenile code makes certain substantive changes. First, there are additional procedural due process for children and families. No child under 12 suspected of having committed a felony offense may be questioned by law enforcement without having first conferred with an attorney. If adjudication hearings are not held within the time frames specified, petitions must be dismissed. A child under the age of fourteen may not admit a petition alleging them to be in need of state rehabilitation without consulting either their parent or an attorney, depending on the crime alleged in the petition.
Blended sentencing permits a juvenile court, in specified types of cases, to maintain jurisdiction over a person after the age of the majority is another substantive change.. The court has a dispositional alternative to waiving its jurisdiction to adult court. Blended sentencing permits a juvenile court to impose and suspend an adult sentence on a child under certain conditions. If the child meets those conditions, the case will be dismissed upon attainment of the age of majority. If the conditions are not met, the court may impose the suspended adult sentence. Jury trials will be required for children subject to blended sentencing. Juvenile courts will have access to a broader range of treatment options.An additional substantive change is the waiver or transfer of the juvenile court's jurisdiction in delinquency cases. Prosecutors now have discretion to file a criminal case in either adult or juvenile court. Under the proposed code, all criminal cases will be filed in juvenile court. Both the child and the prosecutor have the right to request transfer or waiver of the juvenile court's jurisdiction on a showing that the child is not amenable to treatment in the juvenile court.
I have attempted to make changes based, where possible, on research and experience. The changes are meant to allow the agencies and courts involved with children to respond in a way that preserves, where consistent with the child's safety, the integrity of the child's family. The proposed code also attempts to strike a balance between the rehabilitation of a delinquent child and the safety of the community. The proposed code endeavors to empower the court to require families to be involved with the rehabilitation of a child found to have committed criminal conduct. It recognizes the need to have a clear procedure to respond to seriously mentally ill children. Finally, the proposed code provides a statutory procedure to emancipate minors.
The intent of the proposed code is to provide the framework for necessary7 protective, supervisory and rehabilitative governmental intervention in the lives of children and families. Statutes, rules and regulations can only provide a framework for action. Persons, agencies and courts involved with children must be properly trained and supported. Training must be comprehensive, based on current research and identified best practices, and on-going. Support means ensuring that professionals involved with children and families have appropriate case loads, compensation commensurate with the complexity and expectations of the job, and proper supervisory support and involvement.
Enactment of this code will be a step in on-going process of protecting Nebraska's children, families and communities.