Who's Who of five counties check out youth treatment center

SILVER SPRINGS - Juvenile justice will show a new face in about a month when the Western Nevada Regional Youth Center opens in Silver Springs.

The 29-bed facility will give juvenile offenders lessons in life that will hopefully keep them out of the justice system when they grow up. Primarily, the youth center will focus on substance abuse - drug and alcohol - the main reason juveniles get arrested.

"Just having this here will be a deterrent," Third District Court Judge Archie Blake said Wednesday at an open house at the center.

Blake said juveniles who pass through his court in Yerington often show a certain insolence because they are aware the judge can do little to punish them other than send them home. Rural counties near Carson City have had notorious problems placing children in detention halls, let alone get them treated for substance abuse or behavior problems.

"The kids will be less likely to laugh at the juvenile justice system if they know a facility is here," Blake said.

Youth Center Director Lon Cook expects the first 10 juvenile offenders by the middle of August. The juvenile justice system in Carson City can't wait.

"We already have a couple kids that have gone to court and have been ordered here (to the youth center)," said Sheila Banister, who will become Carson City's chief juvenile probation officer after Bill Lewis retires Aug. 18.

The Youth Center has "just been needed for so long. One of the difficulties for juvenile probation officers is finding placement for kids. It's a nightmare."

Some 130 people who make up the Who's Who of county commissioners, judges, legislators, juvenile probation officers, county managers and others involved in juvenile justice in Carson City and four nearby counties turned out Wednesday for the open house.

Lewis regarded the open house as "graduation day" for a five-year effort from judicial and political officials in Carson City, Lyon, Douglas, Churchill and Storey counties to share one facility to treat juvenile offenders who don't need jail but do need treatment.

The Legislature supplied $1.25 million to build the facility on a 2.7-acre parcel owned by Lyon County near the Ramsey-Weeks Cutoff in Silver Springs.

"This will fill a gap that we've had unfilled for a long time: substance abuse," Lewis said.

But Cook, who became the unopened center's second director in March, doesn't want the Western Nevada Regional Youth Center to be known simply as a substance abuse facility. In fact, the center's rather innocuous name works into Cook's goals.

"The name serves the goal of getting beyond stereotypes," Cook said. "We can bring together different disciplines to accomplish more than what each discipline can accomplish on its own."

The center will employ three senior counselors overseeing 10 counselors. Also on board will be two family counselors, a counselor and consultant for drug and alcohol abuse and a school coordinator.

Cook wants to instill a sense of self-government for the youths. Instead of telling a boy he's disrespecting a girl, he wants counselors to get the boy to understand for himself that he's behaving wrong.

He sees the center as a community, and it's up to the youths to fit into the community rather than be individuals.

A traffic signal with red, yellow and green lights hangs in one corner of the day room. It is the barometer on how well the "community" is working.

A green light means "the community is safe, working on treatment issues and following rules." Yellow indicates "the community needs to work harder on skills and treatment issues." Red is "community is unsafe, not working. Staff will ensure safety. Community is shut down."

Cook had a similar red-yellow-green system when he was director of a program in the Multnomah County Juvenile Probation Department in Portland, Ore. He said the light was green so much that sometimes counselors had to create yellow scenarios to instill some of the values that are part of the treatment.

Similar to the popular summer TV shows "Survivor" and "Big Brother," youths at the Youth Center will need to work as a community.

"Peer pressure is very powerful," said Jerry Upchurch, one of the three senior counselors at the center.

Upchurch and fellow senior counselor Richard Klain are training the counselors the program that will include group sessions, some with parents, that teach life skills. The basic concept of the center is to make these youths into functioning adults.

"A lot of these kids by social standards are considered throwaway kids," Klain said. "I want these kids to know, 'you're not throwaway kids.'"


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