Justice Department ends oversight of Nevada boys’ reformatory | NevadaAppeal.com

Justice Department ends oversight of Nevada boys’ reformatory

BRENDAN RILEY
Associated Press Writer

Four years of Justice Department oversight has ended with a finding that Nevada has resolved the federal agency’s concerns about abuse at a state reformatory for boys in Elko.

Mike Willden, head of the state Department of Health and Human Services which oversees the Nevada Youth Training Center, said the facility was advised it’s in “full compliance” with all provisions of a 2004 agreement with the Justice Department.

The compliance finding means that administrators will no longer be required to give Justice quarterly reports on activity at the reformatory, the state HHS said Wednesday.

The finding followed repeated tours of the facility by Justice Department staffers in 2005 and 2006, and the federal agency’s 2007 finding of “significant progress” at the center.

Family Services Administrator Fernando Serrano, whose agency within HHS directly oversees the Elko reformatory, said administrators there showed “remarkable and sustained momentum” in correcting problems.

As part of the changes, state lawmakers in 2003 provided new funding needed to upgrade staffing at the 160-bed, low-security center.

Willden said in 2004, when the oversight agreement was signed, that a “zero tolerance” policy had been instituted at the youth facility and problems were resolved at that point. Several employees were fired and several others were reprimanded.

Some employees were accused of ramming the heads of youths against doors, slapping and throwing youths to the floor when they didn’t follow directions. A teacher also was accused of kicking a boy.

Other civil rights violations included improper use of isolation as punishment, inadequate mental health care, censoring of mail and an ineffective grievance system.

The problems at NYTC led to a U.S. District Court lawsuit being filed by a man who claimed he was beaten and abused while detained at the facility as a 17-year-old. That case was later dismissed.

The formal agreement between the state and the Justice Department wasn’t as harsh as a consent decree, which is what Justice wanted at first. Under a consent decree, a federal judge could have wound up effectively controlling the reformatory.