In 2014, Nebraska had one of the highest juvenile incarceration rates in the country. Douglas County, home to Omaha, the state’s largest city, had a juvenile arrest rate that was 50 percent greater than the national rate according to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention—and nearly 95 percent of arrests were for nonviolent crimes. A public-private funding partnership, composed of 4 local foundations and the county government, identified the need to reduce the number of youth involved in Douglas County’s juvenile justice system and improve the outcomes for those youth that were system-involved.
In response to this need, the funders asked FSG to help facilitate the creation of Operation Youth Success, a cross-sector coalition made up of leaders from government, schools, nonprofits, foundations, and the justice system. Using a collective impact approach, the FSG team supported Operation Youth Success in bringing together more than 200 community stakeholders to identify which aspects of juvenile justice in Douglas County, Nebraska, needed to change and how that change would happen. FSG’s work on this project included:
- Supporting the formation of a steering committee, composed of more than 20 volunteers who represented key decision-makers and who were responsible for ensuring that the effort moves forward and changes are implemented.
- Convening a diverse set of cross-sector leaders from the community, building trust, and facilitating the development of a common agenda.
- Identifying and interviewing stakeholders who make up and impact the complex system that youth interact with to understand their experiences with the juvenile justice system and to gather feedback on next steps. Stakeholders included family members, superintendents, administrators, teachers, social workers, education nonprofit service providers, probation officers, attorneys, school resource officers, members of the Omaha Police Department, detention center staff, and juvenile court judges.
- Collecting and analyzing data from across the community to develop a collective understanding of the juvenile justice system in Douglas County and to guide Operation Youth Success’s strategy.
- Mapping the process by which youth move through Douglas County’s juvenile justice system to foster understanding of where opportunities exist for greater coordination.
- Developing a strategy for the initiative’s steering committee, youth council, and 7 working groups focused on families, schools, prevention, case processing, equity, data, and policy.
- Establishing a neutral facilitator to serve as the backbone structure to support the future work of the initiative.
Since launching in 2015, Operation Youth Success has helped Douglas County make significant strides in reducing the number of youth involved in the juvenile justice system. For example, the working group focused on reducing school-based arrests, a high-priority area within the project’s larger effort, has
- Launched a pilot program, the “School Justice Partnership,” that connects school resource officers, administrators, and probation officers to collaboratively monitor system-involved youth to keep them on a positive trajectory and reduce the likelihood of re-arrest.
- Developed and implemented community-wide training for police officers about how to effectively deal with teenagers and to understand the legal impacts of juvenile justice involvement.
- Driven policy change for the Omaha Police Department to nationally certify all their school resource officers.
These actions have led to a number of positive early outcomes. In 2016, school resource officers reported they had become more aware both of issues affecting youth and of new strategies for dealing with youth. Police felt they had more positive relationships with schools, and school-based arrests decreased by 50 percent in 2016.
Today, Operation Youth Success continues to build on these successes to improve outcomes for all youth in Douglas County.
About Operation Youth Success
Operation Youth Success is a collaborative effort in Douglas County, Nebraska working to create a comprehensive, coordinated, and community-wide approach to juvenile services that eliminates the need for youth involvement with our justice system while maintaining public safety.