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Groups Challenge $2 Million Youth Detention Fence

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Tuesday, September 4, 2018   

KEARNEY, Neb. – Momentum is building to install a $2 million fence around a youth detention center in Kearney, but children's advocates are pushing back.

Juliet Summers, policy coordinator with Voices for Children in Nebraska, says the state has made a commitment to give young people every opportunity to choose a different path, and warns that a barbed wire fence would go against the center's mission, which is treatment, not punishment or lockdown as in adult prisons.

She says decades of research shows that when youths are put into spaces that look like prisons, it backfires.

"Recidivism rates go up, they're less likely to pursue and achieve higher education and employment because the facility setting itself, the incarcerated space has identified for them that that's what they are, they're a criminal," she states.

The Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center in Kearney is the placement of last resort for young male offenders, where they get one more chance after other services and group homes have not worked.

Public meetings were called after youths being held there left campus without clearance, including one incident of a stolen car.

Many community members believe a fence around the center will improve public safety.

Summers notes that after the center adopted new evidence-based programming, the number of runaways from campus has dropped sharply.

After experiencing 36 escapes in 2016, only 17 were reported in 2017, and Summers says the center is on course to cut runaways by half again this year.

"So, we're talking about a $2 million fence to prevent eight young men from leaving campus,” she points out. “And they're already on track to eliminate this issue without even having the fence at all. It just makes no sense."

Summers says there are better ways to spend that kind of money.

Last year after Nebraska's inspector general for child welfare found that 26 children had died under state care, a bill was introduced in the state Legislature to prevent future tragedies. Summers says the measure died, primarily because of its price tag of $1 million.


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