Home News Center Nebraska Advocates Celebrate Huge Win with Solitary Confinement Reform

Nebraska Advocates Celebrate Huge Win with Solitary Confinement Reform

August 27, 2020
Courtney M. McSwain

Amidst the uncertainty of this year’s legislative session, advocates including our member Voices for Children in Nebraska celebrated a huge youth justice win with the passion of LB 230 and LB 924 addressing solitary confinement and racial profiling, respectively.

LB 230, passed in February takes several steps to address the abusive use of solitary confinement for youth in facilities, including:

  • Eliminating the administrative use of solitary confinement – such as isolating youth during staff changes or as a sanction for behavior – in state-run facilities,
  • Requiring that a young person has to present an imminent physical threat in order to be isolated and must be removed from segregation as soon as that threat has been abated,
  • Requiring the child’s parent and attorney be notified within 24 hours of any incident resulting in segregation,
  • Ensuring room confinement does not result in reduced access to food, educational and reading materials, medical and mental health care, contact with family and attorney, water, use of facilities, working lighting, hygienic materials and other necessities,
  • Prohibiting the use of consecutive periods of confinement,
  • Requiring continuous monitoring of any young person in room confinement by staff in-person or video monitoring so that they are not left alone to self-harm, and
  • Mandating that procedural changes made as a result of the passage of the bill may not include erection of additional physical restraints or implementation of other non-rehabilitative behavior management systems. 

Major reforms in the use of solitary confinement comes after a bi-partisan group of Nebraska state senators witnessed the terrible conditions that youth were experiencing inside a girls’ youth prison. Upon a surprise visit in late summer 2019, the senators witnessed girls being confined with no working lights, no mattresses, only some blank pieces of paper and a pencil and other deplorable conditions. That experience pushed the expediency of passing substantive reforms, which had been introduced in early 2019 but didn’t yet have legislative momentum.

“This is a major piece of legislation that we weren’t sure at first we would be able to get across the finish line. It’s a huge relief to see it passed,” said Voices for Children in Nebraska’s outgoing Policy Coordinator Juliet Summers. “This bill was passed with much more bi-partisan support and a lot less resistance than what we had expected it to face, in large part because the senators who witnessed the true conditions of youth solitary confinement felt an impetus to do something about what they saw. It really speaks to the power of youth voices and young people being able to share their own experiences - hearing and seeing first-hand what the girls in the youth prison facility were experiencing created a different sense of urgency that transcended party politics.” 

Another bill with significant support was LB 924, requiring law enforcement officers to receive anti-bias training. The bill inserts the anti-bias training requirement in an already existing racial profiling prevention policy. Law enforcement agencies that don’t meet the training requirement are ineligible to receive state funding grants. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Ernie Chambers, Nebraska’s longest-serving state senator, and received unanimous support.

“We know anti-bias training isn’t going to move the needle on racialized policing by itself, but our hope is that this creates the foundation to do more regarding law enforcement oversight and accountability,” Summers said.

Looking forward, Voices for Children in Nebraska plans to continue seeking ways to push for more alternatives to congregate care facilities and youth prisons. Other policy priorities include efforts to remove truancy as a basis for youth justice court jurisdiction and taking a closer look at transfers of youth to the adult correctional system. And, the organization is spending significant time focusing on what it means to be an anti-racist organization - which will ultimately impact what its ongoing policy agenda looks like. Summers said, “We want to make sure we’re letting the communities we serve lead our policy priorities.”


Learn more about Voices for Children in Nebraska online, and follow them on Facebook and Twitter

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