Omaha World Herald. Nov 29, 2019

Report sounds appropriate warning against solitary confinement for juveniles

Nebraska officials need to heed the warning in a new report and work to lessen the state’s use of solitary confinement for juvenile offenders. Such facilities placed 631 youngsters in room confinement during the year that ended June 30.

Such confinement risks great harm to young offenders and should be used sparingly, mental health professionals caution. States around the country are heeding the warning and reducing their use of the practice.

The Nebraska Legislature, responding to such findings, changed state law in 2016 to require that juvenile detention centers around the state adopt policies to reduce the times they resort to restrictive housing.

The legislation, by State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln, also required that the centers report the circumstances whenever they use such a practice.

Julie Rogers, the inspector general of Nebraska child welfare, annually compiles a report on the state’s use of solitary confinement for juveniles.

Nebraska has made little progress in reducing its resort to the practice, she writes in a just-released report.

The state used such confinement 2,683 times for the juvenile offenders over the past year. That’s an increase from the 2,371 times in the year ending June 30, 2017.

The youth offenders range in age from 12 to 18. The shortest confinement listed in the new report lasted 15 minutes. The longest, at the Nebraska Correctional Youth Facility in Omaha, lasted almost 114 days.

“There is no behavioral, medical, educational or legal research that indicates juvenile room confinement … is beneficial or therapeutic,” Rogers wrote. “Seclusion and restraint are considered high-risk.”

The practice, she warned, risks increasing a youth’s chances of suicidal thoughts, self-harm and worsening mental illness.

Rogers had underscored that concern in earlier findings about the state facility in Geneva for female juvenile offenders.

The Geneva center, she wrote, was receiving a large number of youths with “extremely serious histories of trauma and mental illness.”

Without question, staff members can face major difficulties in managing juvenile offenders who display violent or disruptive behavior.

And the best long-term solution is an overall societal one, relating to dimensions such as parenting, mentoring, economic support and school experiences.

The bottom line, though, is that solitary confinement is an extreme response that raises serious concern.

State officials should heed Rogers’ warning and make needed changes, for the best interests of the juveniles and society.

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The Grand Island Independent. Nov. 27, 2019

State prison transfer plan worth trying

Nebraska Corrections Director Scott Frakes last week proposed an interesting idea designed to decrease the state’s prison population.

Frakes said more than 600 inmates, who are not from Nebraska, are being asked if they would prefer to serve their sentences in their own state.

This would help reduce Nebraska’s burgeoning prison population. Nebraska’s prisons are at a crisis stage. The state’s prisons are at 160% of design capacity. The problem is the most acute at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln, which is at 190% capacity.

With those numbers, it’s reasonable that Frakes would be thinking of ways to reduce the prison population without releasing potentially dangerous inmates.

The transfer to other states plan would achieve that goal.

However, there is one glaring problem with the idea. That is that other states are unlikely to just take an inmate off Nebraska’s hands.

Many other states also have large prison numbers and are dealing with the same problems as Nebraska. They would have little to zero motivation to accept inmates from Nebraska.

Some states may be willing to swap inmates they have who are from Nebraska for one from their state. But a swap of inmates doesn’t reduce Nebraska’s prison population, making it a moot move.

So while the transfer plan may not have much impact, it is worth trying. The prison system must think outside the box to alleviate overcrowding and to address staffing problems. In other words, don’t fault Frakes for trying something different.

It’s getting to the point where Nebraska must try any measure it can to safely reduce the prison population.

A 2015 Nebraska law mandates that the governor must declare a prison overcrowding emergency if the population isn’t below 140% design capacity by July 1, 2020.

That date is rapidly approaching and Nebraska has a ways to go before it reaches that percentage.

While there are questions about what a prison overcrowding emergency means and what would happen if one is declared, Nebraska officials are right to try to reduce the overcrowding.

The transfer plan may be a long shot, but it is worth trying.

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McCook Daily Gazette. Nov. 29, 2019

McCook among safest cities, but care still in order

We’re always skeptical of sweeping conclusions based on Nebraska statistics, with our sparse population and low number of examples of any one data point, but some reports are interesting nonetheless.

The Safewise home security site issued a report that indicates McCook is the sixth safest city in the state.

York is No. 1, with 0 reports of violent crime per 1,000 people. See why we’re skeptical?

Madison is No. 2, followed by Milford, Bennington and Valley, then McCook.

The report showed McCook with a medium income of $40,372 per household, 1.07 violent crimes per 1,000 people and 23.87 crimes against property.

Lest we congratulate ourselves too much, it should be noted that Nebraska’s violent and property crime rates are higher than the national rates, 5.43 violent crimes vs. 4.49 nationally, and 34.26 incidents of property crime per 1,000 people vs. 27.11 nationwide.

Still:

— 80% of the cities had fewer than 10 violent crimes, and each of those reported zero murders.

— 90% of the cities are below national and state property crime rates.

Ironically, the number one city is the only one that exceeds the national property crime rate at 29.71 incidents versus 27.11 per 1,000 nationally.

York had zero incidents of violent crime but reported 234 property crimes, the bulk of which were larceny-theft (201 incidents, equalling 86% of the total property crimes reported).

Physical assault is the biggest violent crime concern across the state, but 40% of the cities on the list reported zero assaults.

Property crime and digital security tied for the top safety concern in Nebraska, according to Safewise’s State of Safety survey. See the original report here.

Even in rural Nebraska, the rush and confusion of Black Friday shopping offers opportunity for criminals.

A few reminders:

— Do not leave packages or valuables on the seat of your car. If you must leave them in the car, be sure they are out of sight and the doors are locked, even in our small towns.

— Enlist a neighbor to watch for package delivery, monitor tracking emails or activate your home security camera or electronic doorbell to thwart porch pirates.

— Keep close track of your credit and debit cards, and extra cautious when making online purchases.

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