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Omaha City Council takes up controversial juvenile justice center project

Omaha City Council takes up controversial juvenile justice center project
Posted at 10:17 PM, Jun 11, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-11 23:17:13-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — The city of Omaha heard from the public on one of the last steps before a $114 million project becomes reality.

Members of the Douglas County Board have been pushing to move the youth detention center from midtown to downtown, near the courthouse for almost a year.

They've approved it, as has the county-city building commission, now it's in the city council's hands.

Those in favor say the county has already dropped the youth center population by 50 percent, adding other options for troubled youth to stay without being detained at the detention center on 42nd and Woolworth St.

"They need to be diverted, they should never go that center if they don't need to,” says Douglas County Commissioner Mike Boyle.

Commissioner Mike Boyle changed his mind twice on the project before pushing the project along. He says a 64-bed youth center downtown improves efficiency and will help keep kids in the youth center for as little time as possible.

Other supporters say a downtown facility has other benefits.

"If we're taking about co-location, we're talking about a constant everyday reminder of the children we're serving,” says Joy Suder, an attorney who works with juvenile cases.

The Omaha Police union is against the project, mainly due to the capacity of 64 kids. They say the 50 percent drop in population is misleading.

"We believe there is an undue, quiet, yet strong pressure put on the juvenile system to release violent offenders even before having a detention hearing to find a safe place. We believe this is being done to artifically deflate the numbers and thus help justify the proposed number of 64 beds,” says Tony Conner, OPOA President.

County commissioner Jim Cavanaugh, who's fought the project from day one, says the drop in numbers is a good thing and the county needs to keep pushing alternatives, but a downtown facility is unnecessary.

"There's not a penny of spending in this for any program for any kids. This is a construction project,” says Commissioner Cavanaugh.

Senator Chambers says the council should deny it, because he'd prefer a public vote for such a big project. Supporters disagree.

"Vote of the people is a delay, it sounds great, but it's a delay, and if it fails, what do we do? There's a cost to acting and there's a cost to not acting," says Marc Kraft, Douglas County Commissioner.

The city council is expected to vote on this next week, if approved Commissioner Cavanaugh told 3 News Now after the meeting, he thinks there is still multiple ways those in opposition can block it.