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Juvenile offenders more aggressive, tougher to handle

Top officials in Southern Nevada’s juvenile justice machine say they don’t see a growing problem in the placement of troubled young offenders. I think they need to look more closely.

If they do, they’re bound to be troubled by the arrest of three teens in connection with a Jan. 19 home invasion robbery and sexual assault case. Qumaire Rainey, 18, Edward London, 17, and Casey Franks, 16, face felony charges that could put them in prison for decades.

The victim in the case was sexually assaulted four times and had a knife held to her throat, according to police and published reports. A male victim was held at gunpoint while the house was ransacked and the assailants searched for valuables and the location of a safe they believed was on the premises.

From the sound of the allegations, you wouldn’t think Rainey and Franks would have been candidates for placement at minimally secure Spring Mountain Youth Camp. But they were, informed sources say.

Rainey was a constant discipline problem. Franks made the football team but was suspended after testing positive for drug use.

One informed source who asked to remain anonymous said Spring Mountain camp counselors are now experiencing more incidents involving the necessity of “hands on,” use-of-force and pepper spray than ever before. They’re getting a tougher caliber of young person than the staff are equipped to handle and the camp are designed to house.

The potential for trouble and tragedy appear pretty obvious.

In Sunday’s column, Family Court Judge William Voy and Clark County Juvenile Justice Services Director Jack Martin made it clear they believe the placement system that exists, while imperfect, is safe and effective.

Voy, who for more than a decade has supervised juvenile delinquency cases in Clark County, made a strong case for a balance of mercy and guidance with justice and punishment. Some repeat offenders are relatively docile inside the system and, with help, eventually turn their lives around, he said. Some teens with convictions for minor offenses can wear masks that hide far deeper and darker psychological problems.

All true. But some cases aren’t close. Given the allegations, and what I’m told were a long list of trouble signs for both youths, did Rainey really warrant a group home setting after leaving Spring Mountain? Was Franks properly supervised after leaving the camp?

Before Rainey departed Spring Mountain, he committed numerous rules violations and spent almost all his spare “home” time on restrictive status. He struggled the entire time he was in placement and wasn’t a candidate for less supervision.

“This is a young man who shouldn’t have been released,” one source requesting anonymity said. “He shouldn’t have come to Spring Mountain in the first place. And he shouldn’t have gone from Spring Mountain to a group home.”

Far from improving in the motivation-based system at Spring Mountain, Franks committed a drug violation and was kicked off the school’s football team before the state championship. (At Spring Mountain, teens with improved behavior can earn weekend furloughs.)

Spring Mountain is a special place. It’s controlled by unarmed staff. There are no iron doors, no high prison fences and guard towers. It’s a setting where troubled teenagers receive the opportunity to turn around their lives before they are sent to a lockdown facility. If they fail there, it’s an undeniable sign they’re candidates for increased control.

Officials familiar with multiple Southern Nevada juvenile facilities say they’re seeing an increase in highly troubled teens, some with documented histories of violence, being housed with younger offenders without the same backgrounds. The younger teens are not only more vulnerable, but they’re also more impressionable.

In the long run, as officials throughout the system work overtime to steer lost young people away from the abyss of incarceration and institutionalization, keeping newbie offenders from the rest of the pack can make a big difference.

Rainey’s placement was particularly egregious, sources say. A setting with decreased scrutiny “wasn’t appropriate. He was struggling and doing poorly.”

County and state officials should listen to what veterans inside the juvenile system are saying.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Email him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295. Follow him on Twitter @jlnevadasmith.

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