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Report Confirms Need for NV Juvenile Justice Reform

October 4, 2011

CARSON CITY, Nev. - A new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation provides evidence that youth correctional facilities do not keep kids from committing crimes later or benefit public safety, while wasting taxpayer dollars and exposing young people to violence and abuse.

After a federal civil rights investigation at the Youth Training Center in Elko, a Nevada Supreme Court task force is already examining alternatives. State Sen. Sheila Leslie (D-Washoe Co.), who is on the task force, says Nevada sends its mostly urban young offenders into remote rural settings, which adds to the problem.

"We need to look at closing down these large institutions, which cost a lot of money and don't work, restructuring our system, moving those kids back to their home communities and providing evidence-based treatment that does work, at a fraction of the cost."

Nevada is one state cited in the report for "systemic or recurring" violent or abusive situations in juvenile facilities. It adds that several states are already moving away from youth incarceration, mainly because of budget woes or scandals over abuse in institutions.

Bart Lubow, Juvenile Justice Strategy Group director for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, says it is time for states like Nevada to adopt different policies and invest in alternatives that focus on treatment and supervision.

"Comprehensive, well-thought-out strategies in state juvenile justice systems will not only ensure that fewer kids are locked up, but will ensure that there's less crime and less money spent, and that kids have better odds of being successful in adulthood."

The report recommends that large institutions be replaced with small, treatment-oriented facilities. Leslie does not expect that idea to go over well in rural areas where the training centers are big employers, although she says it is among the options being considered.

"It's not going to be easy, but I think the taxpayers can win through a better way of utilizing this money. Most importantly, the people who really win are these young people, who can be rehabilitated much more effectively."

The report makes six recommendations for states. Nevada's Supreme Court Task Force on Juvenile Justice Reform will deliver its recommendations to the legislature in about a year.

The full report, "No Place for Kids - The Case for Reducing Juvenile Incarceration," is online at www.aecf.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - NV