It’s often rightly said that we can learn from the past. That applies now to the state center for juvenile offenders at Kearney, where an assault by four male teens Friday sent three staff members to the hospital. The state senator from Kearney, John Lowe, says the state is “sitting on a powder keg” in regard to the center’s security conditions.
This situation is a troubling repeat of conditions at the facility from years back. In 2012, Lowe’s predecessor at the Legislature, Galen Hadley, voiced similar concerns to fellow state senators. He told of the high assault rate on staff and described what happened when he and the chairman of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee were in a meeting with administrators at the Kearney center when they were called out because of an assault on a staff member. The juvenile offender bit the staff member, “kicked him, spit on him and got his two-way radio and hit him five times with it,” Hadley said. “That happened while we were there.”
The troubles at the Kearney center described by Hadley and others spurred much deliberation at the Legislature and the state Department of Health and Human Services, which operates the facility. Some changes and improvements were made. Yet, eight years later, the state is again struggling with security concerns at the center.
There’s little support in the Legislature for placing the facility under the authority of the state Department of Correctional Services; control will remain with HHS. Indeed, state senators are right that the center’s rehabilitative support services for juveniles need to be strengthened. But in carrying out that rehabilitative mission, the state has a crucial responsibility to see that its staff are kept safe. The security concerns must be addressed.
The state senator from Kearney made that point eight years ago. His successor makes that point now. It’s time for HHS to take strong action to bring an end, at last, to the center’s troubles.