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Nevada first lady leads push to standardize juvenile justice system

CARSON CITY — Nevada’s juvenile justice system may be getting an overhaul. The end result: Putting county and state juvenile justice officials on the same page.

The Assembly Judicial Committee on Friday heard Assembly Bill 472, which would put in place a statewide framework for assessing juvenile offenders and deciding what type of treatment they need. Presenters included Nevada first lady Kathleen Sandoval and former state Supreme Court Justice Nancy Saitta.

The measure is intended to put in place a validated risk and needs assessment to guide sentencing for juveniles and plan what services they will get.

“This is going to be a game-changer,” said Jack Martin, director of Clark County’s Juvenile Justice Department.

One goal is to use state and county resources more efficiently, using the same data systems, Saitta said.

The bill comes from the Nevada Statewide Juvenile Justice Improvement Initiative Task Force.

“I was able to work with many experts from our state for us to be able to all unanimously come together,” Sandoval said, praising the collaboration that led to the bill.

She noted that Nevada spends nearly $100 million a year on juvenile justice, yet continues to lack data to guide decisions. Meanwhile, youth repeatedly cycle through the system.

Gov. Brian Sandoval’s budget includes $1.5 million for a statewide risk assessment program.

The bill would measure outcomes to guide decision-making, with an eye toward prevent juveniles recidivism. A juvenile justice oversight commission would be created to be the state advisory group and oversee implementation of the system. The commission would create performance measures and develop a five-year strategic plan.

Under the bill, the the assessment tool would need to be in place by July 2018. Mental health screening would be included.

The risk assessment results would be used to determine where and long juvenile offenders would stay for how long, taking into account factors like the seriousness of the offense and the individual’s progress.

The measure drew widespread support from representatives throughout the juvenile justice system, including Clark County officials, the Clark County Public Defender’s office and the Clark County District Attorney’s office.

No one spoke in opposition to the bill. The committee didn’t take action Friday.

Contact Ben Botkin at bbotkin@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-0661. Follow @BenBotkin1 on Twitter.

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