The Sherwood Foundation, led by philanthropist Susie Buffett, is conditionally offering $10 million toward Douglas County’s proposed justice center.
The money would support the building of the juvenile detention center portion of the project and programs aimed at families and youths who would be served by the center.
The foundation recently formally submitted the offer, which had been rumored for months to be a possibility. It would be the first private money to materialize for the project.
The county wants to build a courthouse annex, including juvenile courts and related services, plus a juvenile detention center in downtown Omaha. The project is expected to cost about $120 million.
Under the county’s proposal, most of the money would come from bonds that would be issued by the Omaha-Douglas Public Building Commission. The commission could vote as early as January on the bonds.
Sherwood is offering $5 million toward the juvenile detention center, and $5 million for programs for youths and families, County Board Chairman Chris Rodgers confirmed to The World-Herald. He said Sherwood has been helping the county with a number of juvenile justice efforts for several years. Those include grants supporting work toward alternatives to juvenile detention.
The County Board is proposing to build the new Douglas County Youth Center to modern standards of “trauma-informed” design to replace the current juvenile detention center off 42nd Street.
A Sherwood Foundation official did not return calls seeking comment.
The offer comes with conditions: Those include that the detention center be co-located with the juvenile courts and related services, and that the detention center be built with no more than 45 to 60 beds.
Those are among the more controversial elements of the justice center proposal. The county’s current juvenile detention center typically houses about 75 to 80 youths, with space for more than 100. The County Board’s proposal calls for a detention center with 48 beds, expandable to 64.
Critics say that would be too small. Proponents say reforms have reduced the number of youths in detention, a change in state law coming next year will reduce it further and the justice center project will spark reforms that will further reduce the number of youths in the center and the amount of time they are detained.
Rodgers said the foundation’s conditions reflect the “best practices” that he and fellow County Board member Mary Ann Borgeson have come to support after years of research. Rodgers said a majority of the County Board also supports a smaller detention center next to a courthouse annex downtown.
“This (the conditions) should not be interpreted as Sherwood putting something on us,” Rodgers said. “This is what we wanted ... This is them seeing what we are doing and coming to us, and we said, yes, we can work together.”
Rodgers said the Sherwood offer “is the public/private partnership we’ve been talking about ... Other communities would give their right arm to have an organization like Sherwood. We are very thankful for them, and that they’re willing to partner with us.”