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Audit finds problems at youth correctional center

CARSON CITY — A state review of four Nevada youth facilities has identified numerous concerns with a secure correctional center for male youths operated by Rite of Passage in Las Vegas.

Amber Howell, administrator of the state Division of Child and Family Services, said the agency was close to imposing $5,000-a-day fines on the Rite of Passage-Red Rock Academy operated for the state under contract by the private, not-for-profit group.

But there have been significant improvements in the operation of the facility, and the agency is monitoring its operation closely, she told lawmakers serving on the Legislative Commission’s Audit Subcommittee.

The subcommittee on Monday reviewed a report prepared by legislative auditors, which looked at four of 63 facilities for children being operated in Nevada. Most of the report focused on the Red Rock facility, which started operation in December 2013 at the former site of the Summit View Youth Correction Center.

Howell said that based on the findings in the report, the state has no plans to expand the population at the facility, which is limited to 50 youths. If conditions do not improve, the state can terminate its contract, she said.

On April 28, three youths escaped from the facility. The youths, two 17-year-olds and one 16-year-old, were found within hours by North Las Vegas police and staff from Red Rock and the state Division of Child and Family Services’ parole bureau. They had escaped under a 14-foot sloping fence with wiring on top.

The assessments by legislative auditors, mandated by legislation passed in 2009, ran from December 2013 through June 2014.

Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, the chairwoman of the subcommittee, said the number of pages of concerns cited in the report for the one facility was overwhelming.

“I’m willing to give people a chance to improve but if it doesn’t then we need to know what our options are,” she said.

Under a section on safety policies and procedures, the report said staff-to-youth ratios were not in compliance with federal standards. Inventory logs of tools were not readily available during the review. The three youths who did escape did so using cutting tools obtained during a prior work detail.

The report also found that some areas of the facility were not always secured, that not all cameras were working and during a site visit, staff were observed on several occasions not controlling the youths or holding them accountable for rule violations.

Contraband, including objects that could be used as weapons, including pipes, screws and broken pieces of Plexiglas, were observed during the visit.

Lawrence Howell, executive director at Rite of Passage, said the facility is working on all of the concerns and has already made many changes as a result of the review.

“I would say 90 percent of it has been completely done,” he said. “It’s a much better program than it was when the audit was done. No excuses but we’re putting everything we’ve got into making this the best program in Nevada.”

Howell said the newness of the facility is a factor in the issues identified in the review.

“We’re saying, anyone who can help, bring it,” he said. “These are what some people call Nevada’s most unwanted, which is not a term we like. But it’s a tough group. It’s a team effort. We’re not going to be able to do it without each other.”

Deputy Legislative Auditor Sandra McGuirk, who prepared the report, said a lot of the concerns in the document are policy driven but that staff play a critical role in implementing those policies.

“I think it is very important that they get educated on what is expected regarding the safety and security of the kids, the staff and any visitors that come,” she said.

Carlton said the facility will likely be the focus of a lot of discussion in the upcoming 2015 legislative session.

“This is just the first of many, many conversations that we will have,” she said.

Contact Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900. Find him on Twitter: @seanw801.

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