Challenging a process of self-destruction, anger, and hopelessness is never an easy path. Knowing that designing a juvenile facility after an adult model is ineffective, the Lancaster County Board chose to form an advisory group in 1972 to discuss what detention should be, what they wanted it to become, and what programs and services could help to achieve that end. Part of that process involved traveling throughout the region touring other facilities. They concluded that they wanted a safe and secure environment for youth while providing education and other programs to equip youth to make better decisions upon release.
The decision to address detention in this way affected the building design, staffing, training, and programming. Considering these things, the Attention Center for Youth was opened in 1976. The new Juvenile Attention Center provided 17 individual rooms, a sky- lighted dayroom, and two outdoor recreational areas.
The Juvenile Attention Center opened in January, 1976, and for seven years provided temporary detention and sentencing services for youth from Lancaster County. Since the late 1970's, no juvenile at the stage of detention has been held in the county's adult correctional facility. In 1984, the Individualized Developmental Systems Approach Treatment Program (IDSA) was added to provide another treatment resource for Lancaster County Juvenile Court. In 1987, we added a Drug and Alcohol partial care component to the IDSA treatment program. In 1989 a Drug and Alcohol Education Program was implemented for all residents. In 1995, this program was discontinued.
The original facility, located at 2220 South 10th Street in Lincoln, Nebraska, was a one-story brick building uniquely design providing perimeter security while allowing considerable freedom of movement inside. The use of extensive windows, natural lighting, carpeting, and cheerful, warm colors creates a therapeutic environment that negates the traditional punitive atmosphere associated with older detention and correctional facilities.
Residents of the Center resided in four wings which contain 17 individual bedrooms and two security rooms. These wings radiate out from a centralized multi-purpose area which contains a lounge area and dining area. Other areas include: two restrooms, intake/discharge room, five bathrooms, laundry, kitchen, educational offices, storage closets, maintenance supply room, staff meeting room, supervisor's offices, and two secured, fenced outdoor recreation areas.
In 1995, a second facility was designed to temporarily alleviate crowded conditions. This facility was located at 4520 W. Stanton which is in an industrial area known as Airpark as it was formerly an Air Force Base. The bedrooms are designed dormitory style and juveniles who are charged with non-violent offenses are held in this facility.
Overcrowding, an increase in the severity of crimes, greater numbers of females, and serious mental health issues provided challenges which gauged both the effectiveness of existing programs and the commitment of the agency to the mission itself. The temptation to respond to these pressures by exerting greater control, more use of isolation, and less staff interaction was intense. Focused leadership has stayed the course. The directors, Jon Hill (1975-1994), Doug Herrmann (1994-1996), Dennis Banks (1996-2005), and Michelle 'Sheli' Schindler (2006-Present) have, with the County Board, the staff, and faithful support of the community, relentlessly held to their principles of working with the youth to positively effect change, growth and to reintegrate youth as solid contributors of society. Another advantage overcrowding and the limitation of services within the community provided was the impetus to closely examine the processes within the juvenile justice system.
In 1997 Chinn Planning Inc was hired by Lancaster County to conduct a comprehensive Study of the Lancaster County Juvenile Justice System. They made 16 recommendations one of which was to build a 60-bed youth services facility, a 20-bed Staff Secure Facility and an Assessment Center.
Construction began in January of 2000 and the facility was opened
on February 11, 2002. At the same time, the name of the building was changed to the
Their recommendations included several detention alternatives within the community. With these alternatives in place, Chinn Planning projected that it would not be necessary to build a new facility proportionate to the overcrowding already experienced. Therefore, the decision was made to build 60 detention beds and 20 staff secure beds. The staff secure facility would operate as an extension of the Youth Services Facility and provide another necessary alternative to detention.
The Youth Services Center, which opened in February 2002, includes an Assessment Center, Detention Center, and a Staff Secure Center. The facility has carefully incorporated its mission and goals into the design using various dayrooms, educational and recreational areas, and alternative living areas.
The original mission, developed nearly 30 years ago, has grown and developed. The Detention Center continues to keep abreast of new developments, training opportunities, and resources. In addition to the basic direct care using Detention Center staff, the youth are provided with an accredited school on site, medical screening and emergency services, counselors to assist with the frustrations of detainment, and a Chaplain. Volunteers, interns, and other professionals also provide an important element of care and support.
The Center will continue to accomplish its mission and goals with good leadership, trained and dedicated staff, and continued community involvement and support.