Staff at juvenile detention center reflect on first six months |

Staff at juvenile detention center reflect on first six months

by Merrie Leininger

There were a total of 203 “guests” of the Douglas County Juvenile Detention Center at Stateline in the first six months of operation, what Detention Supervisor Raymond Finnegan calls a “never- ending revolving system.”

The facility is working in connection with – and is connected to – the adult detention center at the Lake. Working around each other’s schedules and keeping the juveniles separated from the adults as per federal regulations have been challenges for the new center, but Finnegan and his 12 employees are learning as they go.

The center has a total operating budget of about $400,000, about 80 percent, Finnegan estimates, goes to paying those 12 people and himself.

He pays eight full-time staff members – a man and a woman on each shift; a part-time teacher and a part-time nurse and two on-call people.

n Orange and blue. The next biggest cost, Finnegan said, was the clothing for the kids: sweatsuits, long johns, underwear, T-shirts, pants, socks and shoes. Although Finnegan tried to buy the most inexpensive institutional-type clothing, the problem is he has already had to replace some shoes because of the poor quality.

So far he has spent between $6,000-$7,000 on clothing alone, he said.

“We had to buy every size of everything. The problem with buying in bulk is it is cheap, but it doesn’t last. We’re already wearing some of them out,” he said.

“I love the colors,” he said of the blue and orange clothing all the inmates have to wear. “I don’t mean to embarrass them, but if they get out, I want their clothes to scream “inmate” to anyone who sees them. Plus, they don’t need to be fashion plates while they’re here.”

Because the facilities were already there, the juvenile wing is located just off the adult jail. The two share a booking area and a visiting area.

The adult jail also provides the food, soap, mattresses, towels, laundry service, and gave the center some unused lockers.

n Details. Finnegan said he never realized how many details are involved in keeping each juvenile secure.

He has room for five girls and 10 boys. While most inmates are Douglas County kids waiting for their court hearing, about six or seven of the inmates each month are from Lyon and Nye counties.

Finnegan said the kids from Nye and Lyon counties, which don’t have juvenile detention centers, are generally sent to the facility for punishment rather than holding. The average length of stay per detainee for the three primary users during the first six months was: Douglas, 4.86 days; Lyon, 11.50 days; and Nye, 15.67 days.

Finnegan said he has had to ask other counties to come get their juveniles only a few times because of overcrowding, but expects it will get worse with the increasing growth in Lyon County.

He said he doesn’t expect the opening of the Silver Springs detention center to help much either; it only has four secure beds. The rest of the center is low-security for drug and alcohol abusers.

Parents are obligated by law to pay $33 a day for up to three days their child is in detention. That is a regional rate Douglas and Carson City agreed to. It doesn’t cover the estimated $80 a day it costs to keep a child there.

However, the benefits to the county in having its own detention center is great, Finnegan said.

“Now we don’t have to release felons when Carson City is overcrowded,” he said.

n Fifteen cells. Each room has a bed and a toilet so the juveniles can have some privacy. They shower in a common area, however. Each pod of five cells – not with the bars that come to mind, but solid doors and a small window – shares two showers.

The federal regulations require a total sight and sound separation from the adult inmates. This can sometimes frustrate deputies, who have to clear the booking area every time a juvenile is booked in – a process that takes up to an hour.

“We have to learn their procedures and they have to learn ours,” Finnegan said. “The guys (deputies) in the jail are understanding.”

On Finnegan’s wish list is a $2,000 security camera and intercom system for a door that leads directly outside from the juvenile wing.

That way, juvenile probation officers can pick up detainees for court without having to bother the deputies in the booking area and forcing the JPOs to go through the long process of getting buzzed through two doors and a gate to the juvenile wing.

n Donated items. All in all, Finnegan said there haven’t been a lot of problems with the inmates since the opening.

That may be as a result of all the preparation he and his staff have put into it.

They have worked to get books, games and instructional materials donated. Computers were donated by the Nevada Credit Union and Tahoe/Douglas Rotary Club.

The furniture in the sparse recreation/dining room was donated; Boy Scouts built the cubby holes for inmates to keep their school work; and parents are welcome to send their children books, as long as they understand the book stays when the child goes.

Finnegan said the staff previews all books and videotapes before the juveniles are allowed to use them.

“We try to provide some understanding and sympathy, but these kids are more frustrated and more impulsive than regular kids,” he said. “They can play card games and we give them a snack everyday such as an apple, but we don’t want to give them a lot of sugar and they don’t need to be reading books about serial killers.”

Something else he is trying to get is a small patch of ground outside the shared indoor recreation area so the juveniles can have a chance to get outside and get fresh air.

“Right now they can’t get outside. It’s tough on them,” he said.

The area is surrounded with a tall chain-link fence topped with razor wire. He said a few picnic tables will be added in the spring.

n The schedule. The kids have to keep to a strict schedule and obey all the rules while there, Finnegan said.

They get up at 5 a.m. to have breakfast at 5:15 a.m., then come showers and morning exercise before they are locked back in their rooms for the staff shift change.

A JPO picks them up on days they go to court, or they do school work until another shift change at 3:30 p.m. and they are in the common area until bedtime at 9 p.m.

On Saturday they can take part in religious services. Inmates can also make collect calls home from the phones in the multi purpose room.

When they are out in the common areas, the juveniles are not allowed to touch each other. They must answer the staff quickly and respectfully and they cannot talk to other inmates while walking in the hallway. They must make their beds every morning. Their clothes must be clean with shirts tucked in and pants worn at the waistline.

Finnegan said the punishment for children who “act out” is confining them to their rooms. A severe form of discipline that Finnegan said he has not had to use is the restraint chair.

“It was purchased in the unlikely event we will need to restrain a juvenile, since we have no holding cells that would allow them to chill out and reflect if they freak out,” he said. “I got in it when we first got it to see what it was like. Let me tell you, it is terribly uncomfortable. Mostly we use it as a visible deterrent.”

Juveniles are allowed to write three letters a week, but they have to be submitted unsealed for security purposes.

The visitor’s area is severe and the juveniles are separated from their parents or friends by a thick layer of glass and must speak to them through a phone.

Finnegan said the visits can be very difficult for some juveniles because they can’t even touch or hug their parents.

“Hopefully, it’s such a reality check they won’t come back. I’d love to have this place vacant – but that’s never going to happen.”

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