CREATED Mar. 7, 2013
Omaha, NE - Terry Liggins is proud of his degrees and awards from the University of South Dakota, but his achievements didn't come easy. Bad decisions as a teen landed him in the Douglas County Youth Center and made his journey to success challenging. "I ended up getting into some trouble for receiving stolen property and also joyriding," Terry Liggins said.
Liggins was just 15, the first time he went to jail. "Being told when to go to bed, ten minute showers, regulation after regulation, walking in straight lines, you kind of almost feel like a rat in a cage."
His story is all too common for many Nebraska teens. A recent study shows Nebraska ranked third among the states in teen jail rates. It's an issue so important state lawmakers spent the past two days discussing how to decrease the number of young people jailed.
"Not every kid needs a high level of supervision in a detention center," Renee Iwan said. Douglas county has seen a noticeable drop in incarcerated teens. In 2010, 129 youth were jailed. A year later - 104. In 2012, 96 minors were jailed.
Renee Iwan, who works for the Douglas County Youth Center, says community-based programs like the ones lawmakers are discussing have proven to be effective in Douglas county. "They get an education program, they get religious based programs, they get mentoring."
Liggins admits he learned a valuable lesson being locked up but says treatment programs are just as important in preventing teens from going down the wrong path. "I do credit the system for taking me from wild to kind of taming me a little bit but then letting me out of the jail."