More staff problems at Nevada reformatory |

More staff problems at Nevada reformatory

BEN KIECKHEFER, Associated Press Writer

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Three staff members at a Nevada youth reformatory are under investigation for alleged physical confrontations involving boys under their supervision.

The Associated Press learned that the Division of Child and Family Services looked into the allegations and didn’t reach a finding of abuse or neglect — but at least one of the three staffers at the Elko reformatory has been recommended for discharge.

In that case, a teacher at the Nevada Youth Training Center’s high school allegedly kicked a youth, according to DCFS chief Ed Cotton. The altercation followed a heated argument in the classroom.

In another incident, a guard allegedly asked to talk to a youth with known gang affiliations, and when the boy approached, the guard grabbed him by the neck and poked his finger into the boy’s forehead.

Cotton said he hasn’t decided how he will recommend disciplining the guard, but he thinks “it’s going to be pretty heavy.” He said he’s concerned about the guard’s action because it seemed unprovoked.

In the third incident, a youth refused to get out of bed and a guard tried to move him using force. During the physical altercation, the youth was restrained and was cut on his head.

Cotton said he has recommended suspending the guard in that incident.

All the incidents occurred since several legislators visited the Elko facility a month ago in response to a U.S. Department of Justice investigation last year that criticized NYTC for maintaining a “culture of violence.” In one case a boy received a gash on his head for making fun of a guard’s sweater.

“There is a pattern or practice of use of excessive force at NYTC,” the report concluded.

In interviews with lawmakers during the tour, the youths told them it’s no longer a common practice for the staff to “lay their hands” on the boys.

Nevada is currently in negotiations with the DOJ on settling the matter. Cotton said the sides are close to an agreement, but there’s one main sticking point.

“They wanted a legally binding agreement that could go to court, and we’re not willing to do that,” Cotton said.

In a letter sent to the Nevada attorney general’s office, the DOJ said the state’s unwillingness to enter into such an agreement “does leave a gap to be bridged,” but they’re happy with the substantive changes the state made in its action plan for NYTC.

In response to the report, the state agency developed a plan to make the changes the DOJ recommended, such as additional and continual training for staff.

Cotton said the training is already paying off, as evidenced by other staff members reporting two of the recent incidents.

“I think this started really right after the (DOJ) left,” Cotton said. “We had our exit interview with them and we automatically got our staff retrained about reporting.”

Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, who went on the NYTC tour, said that while staff reporting is an improvement, training to de-escalate potentially violent situations is still not up to par.

“Apparently the training they’re doing is not taking or it’s not good training or it’s a combination thereof,” said Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas.

Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, said the problem traces further back to the DOJ findings.

“I think it really does go to the culture of violence that I definitely think exists in that institution,” Leslie said. “And it points out how hard it’s going to be to change the work environment where staff feel comfortable interacting with these youth in such a violent manner.”

The Legislature is yet to close the budget on how much the state will spend to increase staffing ratios at NYTC. Leslie said she’s sure lawmakers will approve funding for more staff, but she wants to ensure the Legislature maintains oversight of the changes occurring at the facility.

The governor’s budget recommendations including funding for 23 additional full-time staff.