Shortages Cited in Nebraska Judicial Personnel, Mental Health

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) – The Chief Justice of the Nebraska Supreme Court is warning lawmakers that there is a need to address understaffing in the state’s judicial branch and unsustainable backlogs in mental health assessments of felony accused.

Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Heavican said in his annual state of the judiciary address Tuesday that at the last count in July, 12 percent of judicial staff jobs were vacant.

“Many have retired and some have been lured into better-paying jobs in county or city government or in the private sector,” he said.

Despite recent lawmaker approval of pay hikes for about a third of judicial branch staff, courts have begun implementing “extraordinary measures” to fill those vacancies, Heavican said, including granting hiring bonuses and deferments. and retention benefits. The branch also offers programs for more career advancement opportunities.

Heavican highlighted the court system’s probation services, noting that in the nearly 40 years that Nebraska’s probation system has been overseen by the Nebraska Supreme Court, it has transformed into an office that “actively manages its clients.” , providing job training, substance abuse and mental health treatment.

There are about 14,000 adults and 2,500 minors on probation in the state, he said, adding that the average annual cost of supervising an adult on probation is about $5,500 compared to $42,000 for an adult in prison.

“If even a fraction of the 14,000 adult inmates were incarcerated instead, this body would need to build more than one new prison,” he said.

The chief justice also called on lawmakers to address the shortage of access to 24-hour mental health facilities, which is taking a heavy toll on law enforcement and the judicial branch.

“Unfortunately, county jails are the default 24-hour facility if such services are lacking,” he said.

Heavican also addressed “the long-standing and ongoing problem” of inadequate services to evaluate criminal defendants to determine whether they are mentally fit to stand trial.

“Lincoln Regional Center currently has a six-month backlog of performing those assessments,” he said. “This problem has been worsening for years and needs additional resources.”

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