Prison for young offenders criticized

CARSON CITY - A judge and a public defender have told Nevada lawmakers that juveniles placed in adult prisons are targets for beatings and rapes and have a high suicide rate.

Family Court Judge Robert Gaston and Special Deputy Public Defender Christina Wildeveld, both from Clark County, add that juvenile judges need more discretion when placing youngsters awaiting trial or in sentencing them.

Juveniles who commit certain violent crimes are now automatically placed in the adult judicial system without seeing a juvenile judge.

Wildeveld, who represents juveniles accused of murder, told a legislative subcommittee Wednesday that children awaiting trial in an adult detention center are five times more likely to be sexually assaulted, twice as likely to be beaten up and eight times as likely to commit suicide than adult inmates.

Gaston said juveniles 14 to 18 who are sentenced to state prison for 10 to 20 years are likely to end up in trouble when they get out.

''I guarantee you that when we put a 14- or 15-year-old in state prison and he gets out in six to 10 years, he has learned how to make and deal drugs, how to pimp, how to rob,'' Gaston said, adding it is almost certain the youth will commit another offense and be returned to prison.

Wildeveld and Gaston suggested Nevada's law be changed to allow what is called a ''blended sentence.'' It would mean the convicted juvenile would spend time in a youth facility before going to prison.

Gaston gave the example of a 14-year-old boy sentenced to 10 years. The youngster would spend the first four years in a juvenile center. He would then go to the prison when he reached 18. Or the sentencing judge could suspend the adult prison term if he determined the boy or girl had been rehabilitated while in the juvenile jail.

Both Gaston and Wildeveld said they don't condone the crimes committed by youngsters, but many of them, they said, can be rehabilitated if given some help.

There are currently 34 inmates between the ages 14 and 18 who are in adult prisons in Nevada. Six of those have been sentenced to life terms for murder.

The two advocated having special facilities for youths so they can participate in programs such as education and recreation.

''We are throwing the lives of these children away for one impulsive moment,'' Wildeveld said. ''Most can be rehabilitated.''

Assemblyman John Carpenter, R-Elko, disagreed with Wildeveld and Gaston, saying the ''get tough on crime'' approach is working. He said juvenile crime is down and murders have dropped 57 percent.

''We were too lenient on crime and things were modified,'' Carpenter said. ''Hopefully, we're in the middle now.''


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