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How To Improve Nevada's Juvenile Justice System


Nevada's juvenile justice system has reduced its reliance on incarceration, but it's still lacking in performance data and mental health services. Our News Director Michelle Billman has details.

Nevada was recently chosen to participate in a special improvement initiative funded by the federal government.

Josh Weber is with the Council of State Governments Justice Center, a national nonprofit that has been reviewing Nevada's juvenile justice system.

"What our analysis showed, basically, is Nevada's spending about $100 million a year on its juvenile justice system, but almost nowhere in the system are they really tracking what they're getting for those dollars," he says. "They don't really know what recidivism rates are for youths in the system and they generally don't know how the system is performing."

Another problem is that there aren't enough resources for mental health issues and substance abuse, which often plague teens in the system.

"Part of the recommendation is trying to explore creative ways that local probation agencies can actually provide those services on their own or maybe they can partner with other neighboring counties," Weber explains.

Weber's team recently presented its recommendations to the state's Juvenile Justice Task Force. Senior Justice Nancy Saitta co-chairs that task force with First Lady Kathleen Sandoval. She says another key recommendation is having an objective assessment tool to determine the root cause of a teen's delinquent behavior. This would help the state provide services that are more specifically tailored to an individual's needs.

"A kid can present as having done a theft crime, for example, but it's not just about the theft crime," Saitta explains. "Why did the kid do that? Was the kid stealing food because he was hungry? Was the kid stealing food because perhaps his parents are drug-exposed and aren't providing for younger siblings? Or was the kid just being a jerk and stealing for the heck of it?"

Saitta and other task force members will be taking the recommendations to the legislature this spring to request policy reforms. 


Michelle Billman is a former news director at KUNR Public Radio.
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