Lawmakers criticize juvenile prison plan
Members of the subcommittee studying juvenile justice budgets said Monday the cuts proposed by Gov. Jim Gibbons make no sense.
The proposed budget would eliminate 88 of the 396 beds in Nevada’s three institutions for juvenile offenders as a cost-saving measure.
It would eliminate 20 of the 160 beds at the Nevada Youth Training Center in Elko, another 20 at the 140-bed Caliente center and 48 of 96 beds at Summit View in Las Vegas.
The reductions would save about $332,000 a year at NYTC, $345,000 a year at Caliente and $1.7 million a year at Summit View.
“It seems counter-intuitive with the small number of beds we have that the number of violent children is going down,” said Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas.
Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, said not only does the proposed budget make deep cuts in the number of juvenile prison beds, it cuts back community-based services that can keep juveniles out of institutions and doesn’t add anything to youth parole.
“This doesn’t make sense,” she said. “We’re left with a budget that does nothing but make things worse for these kids.”
Leslie said the most confusing cuts are those at NYTC where, in addition to eliminating 20 beds, the state has proposed turning the high school over to Elko School District. That transfers the cost of educating those juveniles to the school district, which also has a higher pay scale.
“This doesn’t save us any money,” Leslie said.
Division of Child and Family Services Administrator Diane Comeaux said part of the plan is still up in the air because the Elko School Board has voted unanimously not to accept the transfer.
Buckley said many of the proposed cuts seem to just transfer the problem somewhere else.
Mike Pomi, head of Washoe County’s Department of Juvenile Services, said Washoe, Clark and rural county officials are very concerned at the proposed cuts at a time when they are seeing an increase in burglaries, violent crimes and other serious felonies by juveniles.
Buckley said reducing those beds makes even less sense when Nevada has 68 juvenile offenders placed in expensive out-of-state centers.
Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, said judges have found Nevada lacks the specialized treatments needed by those youth offenders.
Pomi said his agency is researching services that would allow more of those juveniles to be brought back to Nevada.
“It does take some investment up front but once it’s implemented, it’s been a staggering success,” he said.
Leslie agreed, saying it may take more money up front to provide specialized mental health and other treatment so those juveniles don’t have to be placed outside Nevada, but could save a lot of money in the long run while keeping those juvenile offenders closer to home.
The subcommittee made up of Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means members took no action on the proposed budget plans.
– Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at email@example.com or 687-8750.