A budget amendment allowing the state to directly run its only juvenile maximum-security facility raised concerns among lawmakers who said Nevada can’t afford another failure at the now-closed site.
Lawmakers during a budget hearing on Thursday debated the state’s proposal to hire “group supervisors” instead of correctional officers should Red Rock Academy in Clark County reopen. The amendment was heard by the Assembly Committee on Ways and Means and the Senate Committee on Finance. No action was taken.
Earlier this month, the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee approved $674,912 for state officials to prepare Red Rock to reopen in September. The budget amendment still needs to be approved by the Legislature as a whole.
The facility, which was run by a nonprofit contractor, was closed in March over what the state described as problems with inmate supervision and with its medical unit.
“If they are not correctional officers, I have some concerns we are going to be back in the same place,” Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, said of her concerns over staffing. The facility is not a summer camp, she added.
The amendment calls for a $2.7 million increase in funding for Red Rock over the 2016-17 biennium so the state can operate the facility, said Amber Howell, administrator for the state’s Division of Child and Family Services. The facility’s budget for 2016-17 would go from $11.7 million to $14.4 million.
The state wants to hire 16 staff members by July 1 and an additional 43 staffers by Aug. 1. Red Rock would reopen Sept. 1.
The state reached an amicable agreement with nonprofit Rite of Passage to close Red Rock on March 10. Multiple issues in addition to supervision and concerns over medical unit staffing and record-keeping were cited before the state closed the facility.
According to the state’s job description for group supervisors, they would perform duties involving education, employment, training, treatment, care and custody of the juvenile offenders. The description doesn’t specify what kind of weapons, if any, group supervisors would be qualified to carry. Group supervisors go through an internal training academy, said Steve McBride, deputy administrator for juvenile justice with the state’s Division of Child and Family Services.
In contrast, correctional officers could be certified as peace officers under the state’s Peace Officers’ Standards and Training program or its equivalent, depending on specific job requirements. State officials did not specify whether correctional officers could be armed in the facility.
“I don’t believe your staff would have the experience to run a prison, and that’s the problem we’ve had with this,” Carlton said.
Nevada Assembly Minority Leader Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, said the youths who would be placed there “are not your everyday kids.”
“I just believe that if we don’t put some real experienced corrections folks in there, along with group supervisors, that we are setting ourselves up for failure,” she said.
Assemblyman James Oscarson, R-Pahrump, also said the state can’t afford another failure at the facility.
“Is that one of the things that we need to make it successful?” he asked of using correctional officers instead of group supervisors.
Other lawmakers also expressed concerns about the people who would be supervising the inmates.
Youths in the state’s juvenile correctional facilities have historically been supervised by group supervisors, McBride explained.
“We feel that we are very able to adequately protect the youth in the facility,” he said.
State officials plan to conduct an analysis to see how much more it would cost to use correctional officers as opposed to group supervisors, said Mary Woods, spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Health and Human Services.
Group supervisors might save the state money, initially, but could prove more costly in the long run, Kirkpatrick said.
“We have to have the right people in there,” she said.
See all of our coverage: 2015 Nevada Legislature.