Lawmakers begin study of juvenile justice system with review of recent changes

More than 8,000 active gang members in more than 350 gangs have been identified in a statewide study.

In Carson City, according to data, there are more than a dozen gangs with at least 335 known members.

State lawmakers considered ways to eliminate the dangerously negative influences of those gangs as a state study committee renewed its examination of Nevada's juvenile justice system Thursday.

The study committee headed by Sen. Valerie Wiener, D-Las Vegas, was told latest estimates by Nevada's sheriffs and police chiefs are that Nevada has more than 8,000 active gang members in more than 350 gangs.

The study showed that Clark County law enforcement has identified 201 different gangs with some 6,300 members and Washoe area officials another 1,400 members in 100 gangs.

The interim study was part of a review of progress. The committee was told the largest counties as well as several smaller counties have developed rules for classifying and placing different types of juvenile offenders according to the nature of their crimes and the danger they pose.

The counties have created a variety of interim programs between the proverbial slap on the wrist and prison. Committee members were also told there is still a lot of work to do to make the system work and a long way to go to eliminate gangs.

Kirby Burgess of the Clark County juvenile justice program said it's important to continue developing alternatives to jail for juveniles.

He said his county is expanding its detention facility from 112 to 235 beds.

"But I don't want this to be like 'Field of Dreams' - if we build it, we will fill it up."

Leonard Pugh of Washoe County's juvenile services said the key to all the most successful programs is "to get involved earlier where there's a better chance of successful intervention."

The two told lawmakers the system of evaluation and classification set up during the past two years along with a variety of intermediate sanctions designed to treat and correct behavior are the keys to winning the battle rather than putting juveniles in prison facilities.

But for those who must be put away, they said work is under way on a five-county residential juvenile facility in Silver Springs and a 96 bed facility in North Las Vegas for serious and chronic juvenile offenders.

The intermediate sanctions in different counties now range from making first-time, less serious offenders report in daily to intensive supervision programs with drug and other counseling. Washoe, Clark and other counties now have drug courts, a truancy court is operating in Clark County, counseling programs, employability training are available along with residential programs to keep 24-hour tabs on some juvenile offenders in addition to the traditional prison-style programs.

Judge Bob Gaston, a member of the study committee, said those programs can make a major reduction in repeat offenders.

He said the biggest problem in Southern Nevada has been with the Clark County School District which, he said, regards juvenile offenders as trouble-makers it doesn't need.

"We have kids we want to put in school, who want to be in school, but we have nowhere to put them," he said. "The schools don't want to make room for them."

He said he understands that, but that something must be done for those kids on the way to recovery and that the answer might be to take the state and county "per pupil" money for that student away from the school and turn it over to the juvenile program.

The committee is charged with making recommendations on how to improve the juvenile justice system to the 2001 Legislature.


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