Lawmakers debate whether criminal minors can be detained

STANTON, Neb. (KHGI) — About a month ago, Nebraska was shocked when a 12-year-old girl was accused of stabbing another 12-year-old girl, sending her to the hospital.

MORE: SHERIFF: 12-year-old arrested for alleged stabbing, believed to be premeditated

The accused couldn’t be jailed because state statutes say she is too young. Regardless of the crime, is is illegal to detain a minor.

“There is nothing that says we couldn’t arrest her. We just couldn’t physically detain her in a detention setting,” said Stanton County Sheriff Mike Unger.

But Unger believes this should be on a “case by case” basis.

“Not all 12-year-olds are the same. Just like not all 14-, 16-, and 18-year old’s are the same. But I do know she was one, committing a crime and two, knew what she was doing was wrong,” said Unger.

Sen. Mike Flood is now pushing for new legislation. On Mar. 22 he added his name to LB 537, initially introduced by Sen. Suzanne Geist. The bill is designed to “better balance the needs of community safety and juvenile rehabilitation efforts,” and “make it possible to detain high-risk juvenile offenders for 24 hours for a juvenile court judge to determine if the high-risk offender should be detained.”

“Nobody even wants to be having these conversations,” commented Flood. “Nobody in the legislature likes the idea of locking up children. That is nowhere near the legislatures intent. But I think the facts speak differently. There are situations where children commit crimes, that may or may not be considered a crime by the juvenile court, but certainly they’re acting out and threatening the physical safety of others.”

However, Sen. Tony Vargas says we shouldn’t focus on detaining juveniles but providing a better support system mentally and physically.

“Data continues to show that juveniles that are in detention have worse outcomes and are more likely to end up in the criminal justice system. As a result, we also know that it impacts their long-term health, mental health, behavioral health,” said Senator Vargas.

Overall, all officials believe some form of reform needs to take place within the juvenile detention system.

LB537 has not been voted on.

Categories: Capitol News, Nebraska News