John Sims: Cuts to funds for at-risk youth will cost more later | NevadaAppeal.com

John Sims: Cuts to funds for at-risk youth will cost more later

John Simms
For the Nevada Appeal

As a juvenile justice professional in Carson City, I have been working with at-risk families and kids for about 27 years. With the pending budget cuts, I feel it is my responsibility to advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves. … the kids. As we know, Gov. Brian Sandoval has had to make some difficult decisions to balance the state budget. I applaud his efforts and I respect the fact that he is taking on this task with vigor and courage.

Sandoval’s proposed recommendations include reducing state correction care beds in Elko (Nevada Youth Training Center) from 160 beds to 110 beds (all male beds), and Caliente Youth Center in Caliente will be 140 beds. Only 40 of these beds will be available to female offenders. Grant dollars to Carson City that fund our local programs for at-risk youth and high-risk families are slated to be eliminated. These dollars provide individual, group, and parental counseling, and provide assessment, evaluation and referral for youth and families. These dollars also are used to provide counseling and crisis intervention for kids who must remain incarcerated in our short-term detention facility. With these same dollars we contract with a youth advocate who works in the schools with high-risk families to provide intervention services. Also slated to be cut is approximately 33 percent (the states share) of the annual budget of China Spring/Aurora Pines Youth Camp in Douglas County where counties have partnered with the state to provide accountability for kids who could not function under court ordered probation supervision.

These programs have reduced youth committed to expensive correctional care. They are in effect, cost reduction programs, which have proven to be successful. Last fiscal year Carson City did not commit a single youth to state correctional care and only one youth the year prior. It is easy to recognize the savings in keeping kids in local programs.

A treatment response for kids is usually the best response as it has reduced juvenile crime in Carson City, curtailed expensive juvenile commitment rates to state correctional care, reduced graffiti, reduced gang activity and reduced school arrests. This response also has allowed the Carson City Juvenile Probation Department to keep kids at home and offer parent and family support to those families who need help.

State budget reduction will likely require Carson City to absorb almost $3 million that it simply does not have. Much of the money that may be lost was to go to juvenile justice programs. I suppose the state budget will be reduced and balanced, at least for awhile.

In time, the state will experience an increase in juvenile crime which will leave law enforcement the task of arresting our young people in putting them in local detention centers at cost of about $225 per day per kid. Our detention centers will be near or at capacity, as there will be no local programming. State correctional facilities will be full and likely will have waiting lists. Many of these kids held in state correctional care or local detention centers will eventually graduate to the adult system and reside in our adult jails and prisons because of a lack of programming in their youth. The days of “hook and book” will return and the financial burden of warehousing our young people will be on the taxpayers.

Raising our children is a serious task that should be shared by all. Families need to step up and take responsibility for the actions of their children; counties need to embrace our children and continue to fund activities for our young people such as youth sports, arts, parks and recreation, libraries and the many other activities that positively stimulate the minds of our youth (Carson City had been a very positive leader in this). Perhaps churches may need to step up and develop programs or local missions for at-risk families and create an array of faith-based services. Private business should look to fill service gaps by providing funding for special programs that will enable the working family to seek help when needed.

Our kids are our most valuable resource. They should be treated as such in hopes of giving them a promising future. I think Nelson Mandela said it best, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

• John B. Simms is chief juvenile probation officer for the First Judicial District for the State of Nevada (Carson City, Storey County).