- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 15, 2018

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - A county board member has offered a cheaper alternative to a proposed $120 million plan for a juvenile justice center in Omaha.

The Douglas County Board and residents are disputing over the plan to create a juvenile justice campus that places courts, detention, services and attorneys all under one roof.

Critics of the $120 million proposal have asked to put the bond issue up for a public vote. Supporters argue that the center would lead to better services for troubled youth and families.

Board member Jim Cavanaugh says the plan to expand the Douglas County Juvenile Court can be scaled down and that building a new youth detention center downtown is unnecessary. Cavanaugh presented Tuesday an alternative $50 million proposal that would renovate the existing Douglas County Youth Center, build a new facility for juvenile courts and move attorneys into the City-County Building.

The county would still have to transport youth inmates to the courthouse under Cavanaugh’s plan.

Omaha City Council President Ben Gray has urged the county to move forward with the $120 million plan. Having juvenile detention in the same location as the courts wouldn’t require shackling and transporting youth, Gray said.

“Individuals who we have to shackle to bring downtown, these young people are never going to have to be shackled to come into the courthouse, they’re never going to have to wear those things that make them appear to be a criminal and make them act like criminals,” Gray said.

Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said the $120 million proposal would make the county a leader in juvenile justice reform.

“It’s an investment in our children,” he said. “It’s an investment in our community. It’s going to pay dividends in the long run.”

City and county officials may vote on the issue this fall.

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