One week after ordering all Clark County juvenile offenders removed from a state facility in Elko amid allegations of hogtying, a Las Vegas Family Court judge said Thursday that he wants to tour the Caliente Youth Center as well.
Judge William Voy said he is concerned that staff in Caliente, about two hours north of Las Vegas, used “mechanical restraints” on juvenile offenders held in isolation.
“If a parent did that, it would be child abuse — probably charged criminally,” Voy said.
Bruce Burgess, the superintendent at the Caliente Youth Center, told the judge that uncontrollable juveniles have been restrained with handcuffs and leg shackles while in cells.
“When you treat a kid like an animal, you’re going to get an animal,” Voy said. “There’s other ways of dealing with it, without resorting to something that would otherwise be child abuse if it wasn’t in an institution.”
Last week, after receiving reports that staff had hogtied juveniles at the Nevada Youth Training Center in Elko, Voy ordered 12 Clark County offenders returned to his jurisdiction.
Voy sent some of those teens to Caliente and released others on Thursday, but also suggested he could remove all Clark County offenders from Caliente if action is not taken on the restraining procedures.
“We can do it my way, or what we can do is remove the 79 kids I have now — I’ll figure out what to do with them — and Caliente will close,” Voy said.
According to the Nevada Division of Child and Family Services website, the Nevada Youth Training Center is a 160-bed, staff-secure facility for boys, and the Caliente Youth Center is a 140-bed, staff-secure facility for both boys and girls. Both take offenders ages 12 to 18.
Susan Roske, who oversees the juvenile division for the Clark County public defender’s office, said Thursday that one of the juveniles at Elko felt threatened, though he was not hogtied. The teen was called racist and derogatory names, thrown into a pool table, and his face was slammed onto the ground, she said.
“He literally thought he was going to die in that moment,” Roske told the judge. “He’s scared to death to go back. He thinks they’re going to kill him.”
The 18-year-old told the judge he was previously kicked out of Caliente, but has since reformed.
“I really need a chance to prove myself,” he told the judge. “I need a chance so I can start being successful in my life.”
Voy called for another hearing with juvenile officials next week, asking officials to determine how often juveniles were restrained by hogtying or hobbling at either facility.
Voy said Thursday that he has been notified about possible changes at the facilities in the wake of hogtying allegations, which he called a “systemic problem.”
Voy asked Shannon Richards, the deputy attorney general for the Nevada Division of Child and Family Services, to present restraining policies used at all of the state’s juvenile facilities, including Clark County’s Red Rock Academy.
“This is the most complicated procedure to do from the bench,” Voy said. “When you develop a practice over time, you can’t just change it overnight,” Voy told Richards. “It doesn’t work that way.”
According to an Elko center staff report last August, “a youth was instructed to lay in the prone position and did so without incident.” Staff then “entered the youth’s room and placed youth in a belly chain, ankle restraint and then continued by placing the handcuffs on the youth in order to connect the leg irons and belly chains for the hobbles restraint.” Staff “moved the youth to the back of the room. We then exited the room.”
In early December, a youth at Clark County’s Red Rock Academy for juvenile offenders indicated that when he was at the Elko facility he was “hobbled” and “the staff had him lay on the floor and staff cuffed his hand to his leg behind his back.” Later that month, a juvenile at Caliente reported that “he was hogtied 14 times in one day.”
Voy, a Family Court judge since 1998, has been presiding over juvenile delinquency cases in Clark County for about a decade. He’s familiar with a history of allegations of mistreatment at the Elko facility dating back as far as 2002, when the Justice Department investigated the center for violations of the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act.
Two years later, five employees were fired and others were disciplined for their treatment of juveniles at the facility.
In 2008, the Associated Press reported that four years of Justice Department oversight had ended with a finding that Nevada had resolved the agency’s concerns about abuse at the Elko facility.
Contact reporter David Ferrara at 702-380-1039 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter: @randompoker.