The new downtown justice center is certain to proceed, now that authorities have given final approval to the bonding. But a tremendous amount of work lies ahead for Douglas County government if the project’s juvenile justice component is going to be a success. County officials must be dutiful in fulfilling all their obligations for that initiative.
The downtown justice center proposal — consisting of a courthouse annex and a juvenile detention facility — has many positives. The $92 million courthouse annex will relieve the space crunch for agencies in the Douglas Court Courthouse. The annex, on Harney Street south of the courthouse, will house the county juvenile court judges, courtrooms and related services and agencies such as juvenile probation, plus the County Attorney and Public Defender Offices.
Juvenile services will be provided through a one-stop facility in the expanded courthouse space and a new, $27 million county juvenile detention center in an adjacent building. The detention center, designed to modern standards, will be a major improvement over the current facility, near 42nd Street and Woolworth Avenue, with its jail-like atmosphere. In addition, juveniles will no longer be shackled and taken back and forth from the detention facility to the courthouse, where they often sit for long periods in the same area with adults charged with crimes.
Some critics have argued that this approach will require juveniles and their families to come downtown. But youths and their families involved in the system already are coming downtown, since that’s where the court facilities are.
Douglas County has big responsibilities to properly prepare for a successful launch of the new juvenile facilities. It’s imperative, for example, that the county makes sure it has adequate rehabilitation services ready once the justice center construction is complete.
The downtown detention center will have fewer beds than the current 42nd Street facility, based on the assumption that increased programming will reduce the detention need. It’s going to be a mess, after the months of debate and furor, unless the county meets that central obligation on programming.
The new justice center has great positive potential, but only if county officials follow through effectively with all their duties.