Those involved in managing Nevada’s juvenile and adult correctional systems renewed their push Thursday for a single facility that would care for members of both groups.
They said that “co-located” facility being proposed in the north would be built on existing state land at Stewart Street in Carson City and provide housing for felons younger than 18, as well as youth camp delinquents.
As the same time, advocates told the Legislative Committee on Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice on Thursday that it’s time to dial back some of the statutes that push many juvenile criminal cases into adult courts and give the courts, instead of prosecutors, the power to decide whether a juvenile is tried as an adult.
Rebecca Gasca of the Campaign for Youth Justice told the panel that crime committed by minors has been declining for years, with arrests nationwide down 31 percent in 2011 from what they were in 2002.
That was confirmed by Director of Corrections Greg Cox, who said the under-18 population in his system has fallen in recent years from more than 50 to, at present, just 12 inmates.
That isn’t, however, because most of them have been released from heavy prison sentences. Most have just grown older and are no longer juveniles.
Cox and Scott Shick of Douglas County Juvenile Probation and Detention said building a center at Stewart would enable the prison system to separate underage inmates completely from the adult population. For housing and some other purposes, the felons would still be separated from the delinquent population as well.
But that center, he said, would enable a long list of shared services to save money while providing for their needs. The center would rely on nearby Northern Nevada Correctional Center for such things as food and medical services, utilities and transportation. It would offer joint programs for mental health and substance abuse, among others, to both groups, with public school education provided by the Carson City School District.
It would also help eliminate problems with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act, or PREA, which mandates that juvenile inmates be “sight and sound” separated from adult inmates. Cox said the only way that can be done now is by putting all 12 of those juvenile prisoners at Lovelock north of Reno.
Gasca and Cox said there is significant evidence that those young offenders are much more likely to become victims of sexual and other assaults than adult offenders in the prison system.
Vanessa Spinazola of the American Civil Liberties Union questioned whether it makes sense to spend upwards of $20 million on a facility at Stewart given the declining number of youthful offenders in the adult system.
She also said the juvenile felons should be treated differently from adults inmates, given less punishment and more rehabilitation/treatment.
She and Gasca also pointed out that more and more states don’t house any offenders younger than 18 in adult prisons.
Gasca said it’s also time to take a hard look at some policies that push more underage defendants into the adult court system. In the 1980s and 1990s, she said, “there was an overreliance on incarceration.”
“There are a lot of kids in the system who shouldn’t be,” she said, referring to national statistics.
Expanding the judge’s power to make those determinations in Nevada, she said, would relieve some of that.
“Judges like yourself should be empowered to make that decision,” she told panel member Judge William Voy.
The panel has been charged with developing recommendations for statutory and policy changes to present to the 2015 Legislature.