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Nebraska chief justice touts alternatives to regular courts

(MGN)

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Special courts designed to steer criminal offenders into treatment instead of prison are providing benefits to communities throughout Nebraska, the state's top judge said Thursday.

Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Heavican touted the work of so-called problem-solving courts in his annual State of the Judiciary address to lawmakers.

"Every problem-solving court participant saved is one less incarcerated felon and one less burden for Nebraska's taxpayers," Heavican said in the speech.

Nebraska offers special alternative courts for veterans, drug users and recently released prisoners.

Lawmakers created the veterans' treatment court in 2016 to meet their specific needs, with help from other veterans who volunteer for the program. Many of those who go through the special court are struggling with drug, alcohol and mental health problems, Heavican said.

Heavican said Nebraska's drug courts are difficult for participants, but force them to commit to rehabilitation and being a productive member of society. He singled out Hamilton County, in central Nebraska, which had its first drug-court graduation last year. The work of the county's judges, probation officers and supporting staff "keep our communities safe and strong," he said.

Heavican said the courts have also worked recently to develop re-entry courts that help former inmates transition back into life outside of prison. The re-entry courts provide additional supervision over inmates shortly after they're released. He said the state probation office has "re-entry navigators" to help former inmates find housing, job placement, addiction counseling and mental health treatment services.

"The courts and probation staff have embraced the responsibility (the Legislature) has given to them to supervise probationer re-entry," he said.

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