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EDITORIAL: Restraining procedures at juvenile facilities merit scrutiny

When the state treats children in ways that law specifically prohibits — when it holds parents and caregivers to one standard and follows another — it warrants urgent scrutiny.

Last month, Family Court Judge William Voy ordered all Clark County youth offenders removed from the Nevada Youth Training Center in Elko after he received reports that juveniles had been hogtied by staff and left alone. Some of the teens were released, and some were sent to the Caliente Youth Center.

However, as reported by the Review-Journal, Judge Voy learned that staff in Caliente also restrained juveniles with handcuffs and leg shackles and left them in isolation.

“If a parent did that, it would be child abuse — probably charged criminally,” Judge Voy said. “When you treat a kid like an animal, you’re going to get an animal.”

The judge ordered a review of restraining procedures and demanded to know how often juveniles were restrained through “hobbling,” the connection of wrist and ankle restraints with a 2-foot chain, which prevents a person from standing up. Last week, the attorney general’s office reported the Elko facility had used the hobbling restraint technique 35 times since January 2013.

Nevada Health and Human Services Director Romaine Gilliland told Judge Voy that allegations of institutional abuse were investigated — without outside experts — and no wrongdoing was found. But it’s apparent that, at a minimum, restraint procedures must change. A larger culture change at juvenile facilities will be a much harder, much longer process.

The state has an obligation to keep offenders safe from harm from themselves and others. And guards must be able to protect themselves from violent teens. But there must be a balance in doing so. And the Elko facility has a history of mistreatment that once prompted federal oversight.

This matter goes well beyond any potential liability to taxpayers. It’s about our humanity and our rights. It’s about rehabilitating juvenile offenders, not filling them with fear and rage, and speeding their way to prison. Bravo to Judge Voy for stepping forward to lead this important cause.

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