Lawmakers to corrections officials: Where are those girls?

Non-answer on whereabouts of incarcerated juveniles takes committee by surprise

NV Dept of Corrections
(Photo: Nevada Department of Corrections)

Three juvenile girls under 18 who were sentenced in Nevada are currently incarcerated in Arizona, lawmakers were told Friday during the interim Committee on Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice.

However, the committee was unable to obtain any additional information about the girls from the Nevada Department of Corrections, including what type of facility the youth were sent to, such as a private prison, another adult facility or a juvenile facility, or if the youth are able to stay in touch with family members or access needed services such as education opportunities.  

“I’m one who believes in not having for-profit prisons, and I want to ensure our youth offenders are not in one of those facilities,” said Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno, who co chairs the committee. “At the end of the day, these youth offenders are still youth and their minds are still developing. I want to make sure that we do everything we can so that (these youth) come out of custody as whole, better individuals and capable adults to function in society as they come home and we are able to help them grow as children. If there is a way to bring them closer to home, I want to look at what those options are.”

Nevada Current reached out to the Nevada Department of Corrections after the legislative committee meeting Friday to obtain more information about the facilities where the juveniles are being held but the department did not respond. 

In 2019, Nevada banned the use of private prisons with Assembly Bill 183. Holly Welborn, the policy director of the ACLU of Nevada, told lawmakers “if those girls are housed in a private prison, that is in violation of recent law and those young women would have to be transferred back to Nevada anyway.”

Among many issues concerning juvenile justice in Nevada, the interim committee has been reviewing the costs and resources the state would need to either house youth separately from adult facilities, or prevent them from entering the system in the first place. 

Assembly Bill 449, which was signed into law in 2019, authorizes the committee to study juvenile detention in Nevada and issues surrounding youth housed at adult facilities.

In 2018, the ACLU of Nevada released a report that brought up concerns of the state’s ill-equipped facilities for dealing with youth. The organization warned policymakers if a teenage girl was convicted as an adult in Nevada she would be either sent out of state or placed in segregation.

But the information presented Friday still seemed to surprise — and dismay those listening. 

“I’m shocked and disheartened by what we’ve heard concerning the girls who are at out-of-state facilities,” Welborn said.

State Sen. James Ohrenschall, who chairs the committee, said he was also surprised to find the three girls were housed out of state. 

“I thought that in the past, due to the very small number of teenage girls who have been sentenced in the adult system, that there was an agreement that they were housed at a local detention center?” he asked.

Jerry Howell, the warden for the Florence McClure Women’s Correctional Facility, told the committee that Florence McClure hasn’t housed any inmates younger than 18 since 2014. 

Because of guidelines mandated by the Prison Rape Elimination Act, he said the facility isn’t equipped to house juvenile girls. The facility can’t meet criteria, and the cost to do so “is not in our current budget,” he said. 

“Because the numbers are so small, we would need dedicated staff for them and programming that is unique to youthful offenders,” Howell said. “Currently, all of our programming is geared toward adults. We would need outreach resources from the community. All that could be done, but it would be at a cost.”

Monroe-Moreno asked how much it costs to house female youth offenders in Nevada, and how much the state is paying to house the three in Arizona.

Howell wasn’t sure about the answer to either question, but told lawmakers he could get the answer. 

Youth males are currently housed at the Lovelock Correctional Center in Northern Nevada, which has a 20-bed capacity. (The 2018 ACLU report cited past incidents where the facility has exceeded capacity.)

Tim Garrett, the warden of Lovelock Correctional Center, told the committee 12 youth are currently housed there: six are Black, four are Hispanic and two are white. 

He said the youth were all 16 and 17 years old. 

“We continue to do what we can right now, but the program is not legislatively funded so we have to reappropriate staff to accommodate this,” he said. “From a monetary standpoint, that’s equivalent to approximately nine staff who would have to be dedicated to this unit alone, which consists of two senior officers, six correctional officers and a unit worker … That’s $475,000 per year.”

He also told lawmakers the facility lacks a mental health counselor, which prevents youth from accessing programs to help with development and rehabilitation.

Monroe-Moreno asked for information about the crimes the youth were convicted of and  Ohrenschall inquired if youth are completing their educational program or GED certifications.

Garrett didn’t have the answer, but told lawmakers he would provide the information at a later date.

Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years.  He started his career at View Neighborhood News, the community edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. During his seven years with the R-J, he won several first place awards from the Nevada Press Association and was named its 2011 Journalist of Merit. He left the paper in 2017 and spent a year as a freelance journalist accumulating bylines anywhere from The Washington Post to Desert Companion. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues. Born and mostly raised in Las Vegas, Lyle graduated from UNLV with a degree in Journalism and Media Studies. He is currently working on his master's in Communications through an online program at Syracuse University. In his spare time, Lyle cooks through Ina Garten recipes in hopes of one day becoming the successor to the Barefoot Contessa throne. When he isn’t cooking (or eating), he also enjoys reading, running and re-watching episodes of “Parks and Recreation.” He is also in the process of learning kickboxing.