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Task force begins weighing overhaul of Nevada’s juvenile justice system

CARSON CITY — A task force of judges, prosecutors, legislators, youth advocates and juvenile probation officials on Tuesday began considering options to improve Nevada’s juvenile justice system and break a cycle of recidivism.

Gov. Brian Sandoval established the task force in July to thoroughly review Nevada’s juvenile system and propose changes. Sandoval has indicated that overhauling the state’s approach to criminal justice for youths and adults will be on his agenda for the upcoming legislative session.

Nevada was chosen from among 18 states to receive a federal grant for the juvenile justice effort, which came in the form of technical assistance from the Council of State Governments Justice Center. The center evaluated Nevada’s juvenile system and outlined suggestions for improvements.

The center’s assessment said Nevada in 2015 spent nearly $95 million on juvenile justice supervision and services, with the bulk of that, $44.5 million, spent by Clark County. But the state is unable to evaluate whether resources are being used efficiently because it lacks the ability to share and analyze data.

More than half of the minors on probation in Clark and Washoe counties or on state parole reoffend or violate terms of supervision, the report said, though the state as a whole does not regularly track recidivism or other outcomes.

“The limited data that are available show that many of the youth in contact with the system commit multiple offenses over time, leading to deeper system involvement,” the report said.

The report credited Nevada for steps the state has already taken, which led to a 17 percent decline in referrals to the juvenile justice system from 2013 to 2015, largely because of a focus on diverting troubled youths to other services.

Still, it said, youthful offenders typically cycle through the system multiple times, likely because they are not matched with the correct level and type of supervision or services at the outset. For example, it said minors committed by the state to a facility have on average 11 prior referrals to the juvenile system.

Additionally, a significant number of such commitments, 33 percent in 2013, were for technical violations while the offender was on probation or parole. That rate was four times the national average of 8 percent.

“Technical violations are a disproportionate driver of why youth on community supervision are placed in state custody,” the report said.

First lady Kathleen Sandoval and retired state Supreme Court Justice Nancy Saitta lead the governor’s task force. The panel’s final recommendations will be drafted into bill form for consideration by the 2017 Legislature, which convenes in February.

Funding for the effort would likely be a mix of state and private money. Kathleen Sandoval indicated that meetings had been scheduled to give the state an opportunity to try to secure assistance from private sources.

Contact Sandra Chereb at schereb@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3821. Follow @SandraChereb on Twitter.

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