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‘Scared straight does not work’: New facility closes gap for girls in juvenile system

Updated December 27, 2022 - 10:52 am

Spring Mountain Youth Camp on Mount Charleston offers boys a chance at rehabilitation without being placed in state custody. They are able to learn skills and participate in programs such as the camp’s forestry program.

However, no equivalent facility has been offered for girls in Clark County’s juvenile justice system.

Until now. A new facility that aims to close that gap in resources opened this month in the Las Vegas Valley.

The 4,000-square-foot facility’s front door opens to a large kitchen and dining area that leads into a living room with couches. Along the wall are the six rooms that include two beds each.

“We had to do something to address the girl issues,” said Jack Martin, director of the Clark County Department of Juvenile Justice Services. “We’ve got too many girls that are stuck in detention because there’s no other place that will accept them.”

The facility will focus on mental health services that are provided in a trauma-informed way, Martin said.

“What we’re looking to do is really learn. We’re going to be preparing to fail, fail quickly, learn and pivot and understand where the successes are,” Martin said of the new facility.

He asked that the facility’s location not be disclosed in order to protect the program and the girls who will be living on-site.

District Court Judge David Gibson said a child is committed to the state when all resources available in the community to address the child’s delinquent behavior have been tried or if the resource does not exist. For boys, that can include a stay at Spring Mountain Youth Camp. Having fewer resources in the community for girls forces Gibson to make tough decisions.

“With the girls there’s nothing there. When you commit a girl in that situation a lot of times the finding is that the resources don’t exist in the community,” Gibson said.

County officials and staff who will work at the new facility are hoping it will help address this issue. During a recent tour of the facility, Sara Georgievska, who is with nonprofit Rite of Passage which is contracted by the county to work at the facility, talked about the goal of ensuring it feels like a welcoming place that does not add to the girls’ trauma.

Juvenile Justice Services in Clark County includes several divisions from detention, probation, Spring Mountain Youth Camp, health care services, truancy prevention, the business division and The Harbor.

The juvenile assessment centers, located in five locations across the valley, are designed to help kids in crisis and their families, Martin said.

Minors can walk into a Harbor location or can be referred to it by police, their school, a pastor or other guardian. Staff does an assessment of the child and the family to develop a plan to identify the issues and address them.

About 5,000 kids are served by the Harbor a year, according to Martin.

Domestic violence program

Gibson said the courts are constantly trying to adapt to the changing reality of juvenile justice.

Thanks to American Rescue Plan Act grant funding, the court is partnering with local organizations to address domestic violence between adolescents and their families.

District Court assistant court administrator DeDe Parker wrote the grant that provided the funding for the program. She said the county was awarded about $1.1 million, which will go toward addressing domestic violence incidents through interventions at The Harbor and if violent behavior continues, a minor will be placed in a treatment court specifically dealing with domestic violence.

Prior to writing the grant, Parker examined about a one-year period and found that the Department of Juvenile Justice received about 900 battery/domestic violence referrals.

“We’re looking for what is the real cause? So is this mental health? Or is this substance use? What is that driving force? Because if it’s mental health or substance use then we’re going to get them those services that they need,” Parker said.

‘Scared straight does not work’

Of all the misconceptions about the juvenile justice system, Martin said the idea of “scared straight does not work.”

“Scaring children that have been abused their entire lives, you’re not going to scare a child that has been abused, that’s been traumatized, that’s seen the things our children have seen,” Martin said. “It just doesn’t work.”

What works, he said, is offering hope to children and connecting them with a positive adult figure in their lives.

“I need grown folks that can pass a background check and want to commit to a year to join one of these programs. … You just have to be somebody that cares about a child enough to be a resource for them and just be a sounding board for them,” Martin said.

Contact David Wilson at dwilson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @davidwilson_RJ on Twitter.

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