Close Summit View
February 18, 2010
I have noticed that there is talk of closing the Summit View Youth Correctional Center (North Las Vegas) in an effort to fix the money problems of the state (plus closing the old relic of a prison in Carson City).
Summit View has its defenders, such as Clark County Department of Family Services Director Tom Morton and Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie (D-Reno). Leslie recently made the following unsubstantiated statement in a hearing on this issue when she referred to the kids in Summit View as “hard core” and that they would be inappropriately placed in the “less secure” facilities at Elko and Caliente.
A story in Las Vegas Now (2/16) quotes a teacher at Summit View who said "We have the worst offenders -- burglaries, weapons charges, most of them are gang enhanced." As is typical for people supporting programs, the only evidence of success is anecdotal, including testimonials. No hard data are provided and more importantly no comparisons between the offenders at Summit View and other institutions.
Both before and after Summit View was opened I wrote several commentaries in local newspapers (Las Vegas Review-Journal, 7/11/99, Las Vegas City Life, 6/22/2000, Las Vegas Mercury, 10/12/01) commenting on this facility. Here are some of the things I said at the time.
It was hailed as a “state-of-the-art” facility for the “worst of the worst” among juvenile offenders. But the criteria used to determine who would end up in Summit View made little sense. At the time I personally reviewed the rating system and the research that it was based on. This system placed offenses into four categories: (1) minor, (2) serious, (3) severe and, (4) violent. I searched in vain for some scientific basis, some rationale for these categories. None was supplied. Examples of the problems I found in this rating sheet was the that "grand larceny auto" was rated as "severe" while "grand larceny" was "serious" (no rationale was given). I also discovered that a "bomb threat" was classified as "serious," but not "severe" or even "violent."
Then there was this: they used a point system where certain points were assigned for various offenses (no rationale was given). For instance, 60 points was assigned for a violent offense, but only 12 were assigned for a "severe" offense. Within the "violent" category we find armed robbery, yet within the "serious" category we find stalking. Is robbery five times more severe than stalking? At the time I wondered, Why 60 points? Why use numbers at all?
Also, they came up with four “Levels” of seriousness for offenders (from Level 1 to Level 4 – 4 being the most serious). This classification was taken from the adult prison system in California – inappropriate to use for juveniles. Based upon this point system, it was concluded that there were more than 100 juveniles in Nevada that would be classified as “Level 4” and therefore should be in a maximum security facility – which is what Summit View turned out to be. I remember thinking at the time: if there are so many of these kinds of offenders, why haven’t they been certified as adults?
Within the few months the private company that ran the institution could not fill all the beds to make their profit. They couldn’t find enough “Level 4” juveniles. At one time they even “borrowed” “Level 3” offenders from the detention center at the juvenile justice center to help alleviate overcrowding there.
To make a long story short, 10 years and many failures later (at one point the facility was closed and the state took over) we are on the verge of closing it. Within a few years of opening Summit View had some serious problems, such as: the firing of three or four administrators, procedures not being followed, a sex scandal involving two women "correctional workers" (aged 22 and 24) who were charged with engaging in oral sex with certain youths, a protest by 19 boys who complained that when the most recent administration took over, all the progress they had made was negated and they had to start anew. Also, Summit View hired someone who had been arrested for having sex with a juvenile and a background check did not reveal this.
After writing and talking about this institution (and other issues) I just gave up. I will admit that I haven’t examined Summit View since then and have no idea what kind of kids are locked up. Unless we have had an epidemic of “violent predatory offenders” in recent years, I would bet that you would not find very many “Level 4” offenders there.
It is time to close it and transfer these kids to places like Elko, Caliente and Spring Mountain Youth Camp or release them outright under parole supervision or place them in various community-level programs. Public safety will not be threatened.
While you are at it, why not transfer some of the prisoners at the old Carson City prison to Summit View (after all, it is a maximum security prison) and also why not re-open the prison at Jean to alleviate overcrowding elsewhere?
Since I first wrote this (February 17), the supporters of this prison had their way and the subject was suddenly dropped from further discussion. The fact remains, however, that Summit View remains a completely unnecessary institution. Until someone in authority provides some evidence of why it is needed (other than merely stating that it is needed) and some evidence of its effectiveness, my views remain the same.