In 1957, under LB 568, Nebraska adopted a general statewide system that provided for a planned, uniform system of presentence investigations, case studies, and coordinated supervision of offenders eligible for probation under court suspension of sentence. Organizationally, the Nebraska District Court Judges Association was initially granted power to exercise general supervision over probation in all district courts. District judges within each probation district appointed Chief Probation Officers who served at the pleasure of the judges. From 1958 to 1971, the statewide probation system functioned primarily for adult felons and supervision of misdemeanants from the county courts was performed as a “courtesy.”
In 1971, the Legislature passed LB 680 which provided for administration of probation in district, county, and juvenile courts, except for the separate juvenile courts; created the Office of Probation Administration and outlined the office’s duties; created the Field Probation Service and outlined its duties as well as the procedures for discharging offenders from probation; and provided a mechanism for the supervision of offenders through the Interstate Compact. In 1972, LB 1032 created a unified county court system and formally allowed for supervision of probation cases from the county court. In 1978, LB 624 was enacted which provided that “county courts shall be prohibited from appointing probation officers after the effective date of this act.” In that same year, LB 625 was enacted creating the Nebraska Probation System Committee whose function was to “assist the Office of Probation Administration and the Probation Administrator in developing policies and standards for Field Probation Service.” In 1985, the Legislature passed LB 13 which merged the municipal courts of Lincoln and Omaha into the county court systems of Lancaster and Douglas counties and placed the Probation personnel of these courts under the supervision of the Office of Probation Administration. The Probation personnel of the separate juvenile courts of Douglas, Lancaster, and Sarpy counties were also placed under the Office of Probation Administration.
By virtue of LB 529, the Legislature on July 1, 1986 placed Agency 06 (District Courts/Probation) under the Nebraska Supreme Court (Agency 05). The bill called for the Nebraska Probation System Committee to serve as an advisory committee until its duties were taken over by the Nebraska Probation Advisory Committee on July 1, 1988. The committee’s role was to provide advice to the Probation Administrator and Supreme Court regarding probation matters. This committee was abolished by the Supreme Court on May 14, 1998, when the court alternatively elected to designate a Supreme Court judge to serve as liaison to the Probation system.
In 1990, the Legislature provided for the implementation of an Intensive Supervision Probation (ISP) program. ISP is designed to serve as an intermediate sanction between traditional probation and jail or prison for adults or state commitment for juveniles. Through utilization of a targeting tool, select offenders who have been deemed appropriate for this sanction may be sentenced to ISP. Organizationally, the state is divided into six ISP regions. Each is staffed by a Coordinator, line field staff, and support personnel. Twenty officers were hired as part of this initial program in 1990. An additional five juvenile ISP officers were added in 1991 and five more ISP officers were added in July, 1995.
In 1997, the Legislature passed LB 881 directing the Department of Correctional Services to develop and implement an incarceration work camp no later than January 1, 2005, where adult criminal offenders could be placed as a condition of a sentence of probation (codified in Neb. Rev. Stat. 83-4,142 - 83-4,147). This legislation outlined the work camp’s structure and core programming and directed that the court target certain types of eligible felony offenders. Probation’s responsibility centers around assisting the court in identifying and assigning appropriate offenders to the work camp, responding to any acts of non-compliance while said offenders are in the work camp, and performing an aftercare role once the offender has completed the work camp and transitions back into their community. Within Probation’s FY99-01 biennium budget, thirteen employees, ten of whom were ISP officers, were allocated to accommodate this new intermediate sanction. After several years of collaboration between the Department of Correctional Services and the Nebraska Probation System, this facility became operational April 30, 2001, under the name of Nebraska Department of Correctional Services Work Ethic Camp (WEC).
In 2001, the Legislature passed LB 451 so as to streamline the practice of juvenile intake and allow for a consistent and uniform method of decision-making when the issue of post-arrest detention/placement is requested by law enforcement (codified in Neb. Rev. Stat. 43-250, 43-253, and 43-260). In doing so, such legislation clearly solidified juvenile intake as an exclusive Probation function. Seven juvenile intake probation officers were allocated within Probation’s FY02-03 biennium budget to administratively strengthen Probation’s ability to successfully implement this new function statewide.
The practices of juvenile intake were further clarified in 2003 by the passage of LB 43, specifically as it relates to Neb. Rev. Stat. 43-250 (3) and (4). Neb. Rev. Stat. 43-250 (3) was amended to clarify that a peace officer retain temporary custody over a juvenile pending a probation officer’s detention decision; and 43-248 (4) was amended to clarify that a peace officer shall contact the Department of Health and Human Services, not Probation, when seeking temporary placement of a juvenile defined within 43-248 (3).
In 2003, the Legislature passed LB 46, herein referred to as the “Community Corrections Act,” which promulgated a number of criminal justice reforms that directly affected the administration of probation services. Major key components included the following:
- Establishment of a Community Corrections Council within the Crime Commission to oversee and ensure that a continuum of community corrections is developed for use by probationers and parolees – Section 47- 619 through 47-634, Neb. Rev. Stat. (2003 Supp.).
- Establishment of probation and parole enrollment and monthly programming fees to support enhanced programming and services as well as a procedure and criteria for determining ability to pay – Section 29-2262.06, Neb. Rev. Stat. (2003 Supp.) and a Probation Program Cash Fund – Section 29-2262.07, Neb. Rev. Stat. (2003 Supp.).
- Establishment of a procedure and method of imposing certain administrative sanctions by probation officers for technical offender violations – Section 29-2266 (1), Neb. Rev. Stat. (2003 Supp.).
- Elimination of presentence investigations in 3A misdemeanor and below class offenses, related traffic and city ordinances – Section 29-2261 (2), Neb. Rev. Stat. (2003 Supp.).
- Require that the Supreme Court develop sentencing guidelines by court rule. Guidelines for felony drug offenses are to be developed first and delivered to the Court by July 1, 2004. An advisory committee comprised of law enforcement representatives, county attorneys, district court judges, defense bar members, and others the Supreme Court deems appropriate may assist in the development of the guidelines – Section 47-630, Neb. Rev. Stat. (2003 Supp.).
- Creation of a Community Corrections Uniform Data Analysis Fund administered by the Executive Director of the Crime Commission, funded by the assessment of an additional $1 in court costs and utilized to support data integration efforts amongst a wide array of criminal justice entities – Section 47-632, Neb. Rev. Stat. (2003 Supp.).
- Adoption of Interstate Compact for Adult Offender Supervision – Section 29-2639, Neb. Rev. Stat. (2003 Supp.).
The Interstate Commission for Adult Offender Supervision was federally enacted on June 19, 2002. Nebraska became signatory to the compact January, 2003, pursuant to Neb. Rev. Stat. § 29-2640. The new Interstate Compact rules took effect August, 2004. The Interstate Compact launched a new on-line Offender Tracking System on October 6, 2008. The system is paperless and information is passed on to the probation districts as well as other states in a timely and effective manner. The Interstate Compact has a developed State Council which provides support and advocacy for the State of Nebraska. The State Council includes representatives from the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of government, victims groups and compact administrators. The Interstate Compact continues to update the rules to keep communities safe.
In 2005, LB46 was passed which provided for the collection of enrollment and program fees for adult offenders placed on probation. A one-time enrollment fee of $30 is assessed at the beginning of probation, program fees of $25 per month for regular probation and $35 per month for the intensive supervision probation program may also be assessed. The total fees collected in 2008 were 2.4 million. These fees are used to fund programs and treatment for adult probationers. The cost of supervising an individual on traditional probation is $2.10/day while the cost of supervising an individual in the specialized substance abuse program is $8.32/day. The cost of supervising offenders in a correctional facility is $90.31/day.
The first drug court in Nebraska was established in 1997 in Douglas County. In 2003, legislation was passed officially recognizing drug courts and made them subject to the rules established by the Nebraska Supreme Court. In 2005, legislation allowed probation personnel to work with non-probation -based programs including drug courts.
In 2006, the Specialized Substance Abuse Supervision (SSAS) program for prison-bound felony drug offenders and parolees was implemented in five pilot sites with the goal of expanding state-wide. To address this population, specialized services were established including Day and Evening Reporting Centers and the Fee for Service Voucher Program.
Reporting Centers were created in July of 2006 as a community-based, one-stop-shop location that blends high levels of offender supervision with intensive on-site delivery of services. Reporting Centers are located in Omaha, Lincoln, Bellevue, Nebraska City, Kearney, Lexington and South Sioux City. Probation, parole and problem-solving court offenders under community supervision report and receive services that are targeted at rehabilitation. Core services include educational, vocational, pre-treatment, cognitive groups and drug testing. Reporting Centers are open six days a week, with day and evening hours. By October of 2009, Reporting Centers were receiving more than 10,000 visits per month for drug testing and treatment groups.
Reporting Centers have been integrated into communities efficiently and cost effectively. By combining state funds for personnel, local funds for the facility and offender fees for rehabilitative services, this has been a win-win situation for the state and local entities. This inter-governmental, inter-agency collaboration meets the legislative objective for prison overcrowding alternatives, the public’s objective of safe communities, and the state’s objective for cost efficiency.
In 2006, the Fee for Service Voucher Program was created to provide targeted individuals on probation, parole, and problem-solving courts financial assistance to treatment. Utilization of these dollars assists in increasing community safety by reducing recidivism through targeted treatment interventions. The coordinated treatment of the individual by both justice and therapeutic professionals creates an environment of structured support and accountability, lowering the offender’s propensity to reoffend in the community. Additionally, the Fee for Service Voucher Program lowers prison overcrowding by providing less expensive treatment alternatives and community supervision options. During 2008-2009, this program administered by the Office of Probation Administration, was able to provide services to approximately 2,200 individuals who would not have had access to these risk-reducing treatment interventions. Currently, there are more than 600 statewide Registered Service Providers who work with individuals in the criminal justice system. These providers have fulfilled the requirements set forth by the Standardized Model for Delivery of Substance Abuse Services in accordance with the Nebraska Supreme Court rule.
Since its inception in 2006, the Fee for Service Voucher Program has looked for ways to increase efficiency and resource sharing between the three agencies who utilize voucher services. In 2009, we were able to finish transforming a paper process into an electronic one. All vouchers, whether for probation, parole or problem-solving courts, can be created and reported electronically. This new process will create unified data that can be shared by the agencies regarding treatment and recidivism outcomes for the voucher process.
The Rural Improvement for Schooling and Employment (R.I.S.E.) program was developed by the Office of Probation Administration and began on September 1, 2007, after Probation Administration received a study conducted by the Vera Institute. The study highlighted two major factors that contribute to high-risk juvenile or adult probationers failing on intensive supervision probation: 1) lack of employment and 2) lack of education. The R.I.S.E. program is supported by grant funding received from AmeriCorps/Serve Nebraska. During the R.I.S.E. program’s first year, eight full-time AmeriCorps members were placed in rural probation districts across Nebraska. The AmeriCorps members are titled R.I.S.E. Specialists and their focus is working with adult and juvenile probationers in need of employment and educational training and coaching.
The Interstate Commission for Juveniles was federally enacted on August 26, 2008. Nebraska became signatory to the compact August 31, 2009, pursuant to Neb. Rev. Stat. § 43-1011. This compact replaced a compact previously written in 1955. The Juvenile Interstate Compact was developed to assist in the safe return of runaways to their homes, and juveniles on probation and parole are supervised while residing in other states. The new juvenile compact is currently in a transition period and the development of new rules, standing committees and state councils have only been in place for one year. Nebraska was the 37th state to join the new juvenile compact, which assures the welfare and protection of juveniles who cross state lines.
In 2008, Probation celebrated 50 years of service to our Courts and the citizens of this great state. Under the structure of the Nebraska Supreme Court and the Administrative Office of the Courts and Probation, Probation has faithfully worked to not only improve safety of all Nebraskans, but moreover, to assist all juveniles and adults under our supervision to become productive citizens.
Three years into a systematic transformation, which began in 2005, the Nebraska Probation System is driven by a belief that introduced evidence-based policies and practices into the system would produce positive individual outcomes in addition to meeting our system’s goals.
In 2009, the probation districts were realigned to coincide with judicial districts. This realignment reduced the total number of districts.
The year 2011 was a year of celebration for the Nebraska Probation System. While continuing to serve our courts and the citizens of this great State, the Administrative Office of Probation re-instated the formal swearing in of all probation officers. The first in a series of ceremonies was held in Lincoln, where a class of new probation officers were sworn in by Chief Justice Heavican. In October of 2011, all of the Chief Probation Officers were sworn in together by Judge John Icenogle. Following that event, Districts held individual ceremonies for existing officers to ensure that all received this distinguished honor.
In 2011, the Office of Probation Administration launched a new service, Probation TeleServices (PTS). PTS equipment has been installed in a variety of locations throughout the twelve judicial districts on laptops, small table systems and larger room systems placed in reporting centers. PTS has one major goal and that is to offer programs and services statewide to areas that may have not otherwise received services. PTS offers the availability for a 2-way connection of two or more locations through audio and video equipment and merges that gap between all barriers that probation officers, treatment providers and probationers deal with in the state due to transportation and logistical issues. For example, probation officers in Hastings can communicate with clients and staff in a location many miles away by utilizing the TeleServices equipment. This is a time and cost savings by eliminating lengthy travel and ensuring services are available statewide.
The year 2012 was a year characterized by skill building for the Nebraska Probation System. While continuing to serve our courts and the citizens of this great State, the Administrative Office of Probation implemented a new training initiative for officers supervising the highest risk individuals. This training targeted specific skill building around case management to improve offender accountability and overall community safety. This year also brought forth the formalization of an evaluation process for Districts. Continuous evaluation is key to maintaining Evidence-Based Practices.
Legislative Bill 561, passed in May of 2013, charged the Nebraska Juvenile Probation System to treat and rehabilitate court-involved youth as opposed to punishing them. The Nebraska Juvenile Service Delivery Project, established as a pilot in 2009, was expanded statewide in a 3-step phase-in process beginning July 1, 2013, with full implementation July 1, 2014. The expansion of the project resulted in the Office of Probation Administration taking over the duties of the Office of Juvenile Services with respect to its previous functions of community supervision and parole of juvenile law violators and providing evaluations for such juveniles. The Office of Juvenile Services continues to operate the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers and provides the care and custody of the juveniles placed at these facilities. Expansion of the project was possible with the transfer of funds from the Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of Juvenile Services. These funds were used to provide community-based services and juvenile parole to the Office of Probation Administration. This charge allows Nebraska to assess current gaps in the system and create a continuum of care which includes diversion services, mental health treatment and reentry programming that is evidence-based.
In 2014, LB 907 was enacted authorizing 16 new SSAS officers. Adding these officers doubled the capacity of the SSAS program. Because of LB 907, probation was not only able to expand SSAS, but was also able to open new reporting centers in Grand Island, Columbus, and Norfolk. This brought the total number of reporting centers across the state to eleven. These reporting centers, located in Sarpy, Otoe, Douglas, Lancaster, Dawson, Buffalo, Dakota, Scotts Bluff, Platte, Hall, and Madison Counties, offer over 150 rehabilitative and support services to individuals who are under supervision. LB 907 also provided funding to begin to identify mental health issues frequently suffered by individuals involved in the criminal justice system. Previously unavailable mental health services were made accessible to probationers, problem-solving court participants, and parolees who were in need of treatment.
LB 605 (“The Justice Reinvestment Act”) was enacted in 2015. LB 605 expands the use of probation in lieu of incarceration, ensures that more people receive supervision upon release from prison, and bolsters supervision practices to reduce recidivism. Signed on May 27, 2015, the law was the result of “justice reinvestment,” a data-driven approach designed to reduce corrections spending and reinvest a portion of savings in strategies that reduce recidivism and increase public safety. LB 605 is expected to ease Nebraska’s prison overcrowding—reducing the projected prison population by 1,000 people—and ensure that an additional 300 people per year are supervised upon release from prison.
Whether through sentencing alternatives, specialized programs, services, or technology, the courts and probation continue to collaborate with the other two branches of government. We also work with both public and private entities to confront these criminal justice challenges as we strive to improve the lives and safety of all Nebraskans.