Lawmakers told Lovelock prison unsuited for juvenile inmates
Prison officials and the ACLU told lawmakers on Wednesday that Lovelock State Prison isn’t the place juvenile inmates should be.
Holly Welborn of the American Civil Liberties Union told the legislative study committee on Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice those teenaged offenders can’t access programming and live pretty much in isolation, unable to participate in education, counseling and outside activities.
Lovelock Warden Renee Baker and Deputy Director of Corrections Howard Wickham agreed.
“We run prisons for adults and we’re trying to fit juveniles into that system,” Wickham said. “It’s very challenging for us.”
The biggest reason for that challenge is the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) that bars juvenile inmates from any contact with adult offenders. They’re not supposed to have in-person contact or be even within sight or sound of adults.
Welborn said that situation is further complicated by the fact that Lovelock is Nevada’s primary sex offender prison with half of its 1,764 person adult population convicted of some sexual offense.
But that’s where the Legislature directed corrections to put its violent juvenile offenders five years ago.
She said Lovelock has excellent programs for its adult inmates but almost no funding for essential juvenile programs and that the institution isn’t staffed to handle juveniles.
Those juveniles, however, are incarcerated because all have been convicted of serious violent felonies such as murder with a deadly weapon.
They said the 17 teens housed at Lovelock can only get outside on the yard for some exercise and recreation when all the adult males are locked down. Adult inmates are also barred from the education facility at the prison for an hour or two in the morning and again in the afternoon. They made it clear the situation is causing huge problems in managing the prison.
Welborn and Wickham said the situation for female juvenile offenders is even.
“There is nowhere to house young women tried as adults,” she said.
Wickham said they have one young woman with a serious felony conviction who had to be moved out of state for confinement because putting her at Nevada’s women’s prison in North Las Vegas would essentially have meant solitary confinement to protect her and follow the law. He said there are as many as four more underage females in the criminal justice system that corrections will soon have to deal with.
“PREA has been a huge issue in tying our hands with what we can and cannot do,” he said.
One of the solutions suggested is to build an institution specifically for juveniles. But the committee was told that plan would cost an estimated $26 million.
Beyond that, Welborn, Wickham and other witnesses argued that the key to restoring these juveniles to society is rehabilitation in all areas ranging from education to behavioral counseling, anger management and substance abuse treatment, all of which are extremely difficult to accomplish at Lovelock.