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Nev. Kids Shouldn't Serve Sentences in Adult Prisons, ACLU Says

The ACLU says children's brains are still developing, and incarcerated young people need age-appropriate rehabilitation services. (Flickr)
The ACLU says children's brains are still developing, and incarcerated young people need age-appropriate rehabilitation services. (Flickr)
June 18, 2018

CARSON CITY, Nev. — The state of Nevada tries children as adults for certain crimes; but when children enter the adult system, the state has very limited options for housing them. A new report from the ACLU says the situation is approaching a crisis.

The report showed many boys tried as adults in Nevada are sent to Lovelock Correctional Center, an adult facility. But safety regulations require the boys to be kept away from the prison's adult population. Holly Welborn, policy director with the ACLU of Nevada, said that means boys are isolated from the prison's main spaces.

"With Lovelock Correctional Center, the boys can't engage in any kind of workforce programming. They can't participate in any activities where they can earn sentence credits,” Welborn said. “So they're not entitled to the same rights as the other inmates because they have to be separated."

And Nevada's only women's correctional center has no options for housing young girls. One Nevada girl recently had to be sent to a facility out-of-state to serve her sentence - which Welborn said put an unfair burden on her family.

A few other states have adopted policies to house all offenders under a certain age in juvenile facilities, even if they've been tried as adults. Representatives from the ACLU presented their findings this month to Nevada's Legislative Committee on Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice. Welborn said she hopes to see the lawmakers take up the issue in next year's legislative session.

According to Welborn, kids tried in the adult system are more likely to reoffend than kids in the juvenile system. She said giving developing adolescents access to age-appropriate rehabilitation services is in everyone's interest.

"Our public safety depends on it. All kids in the adult system, they will be released to the community,” she explained. “By isolating these kids, they're not engaging in programming that's going to prepare them for their lives outside of prison."

Welborn said only a few dozen children are currently housed in adult facilities in Nevada. And she said it's a small enough group right now that she's optimistic the issue can be addressed. But, she said, as Nevada's population grows, the population of young offenders is likely to grow as well.

Katherine Davis-Young, Public News Service - NV