RENO, Nev. (MyNews4.com & KRNV) -- When it comes to our criminal justice system, we are used to hearing about overcrowded conditions. On Your Side investigates the opposite situation at a facility in Reno.
It's a facility you paid for, but is now less than half full.
The Jan Evans Juvenile Justice Center was built at a cost of $25 million in 2004. It was built to replace an outdated and overcrowded facility.
News 4 was surprised to find just how few kids are being held at Jan Evans these days. On Your Side investigated to find out why.
"They do the search right here, we get all of the probable cause information...
Liz Flores is a Division Director at Jan Evans Juvenile Justice Center, a modern, clean facility for kids who end up on the wrong side of the law.
"They have to be a risk to themselves or others, a threat of flight, there could be a warrant for their arrest," said Flores.
When Jan Evans was built a decade ago, it was full with more than 100 kids locked up on a typical day. But those numbers have steadily declined, and currently, it is less than 1/3 of its capacity.
Built to house up to 108 kids, over the last year the average population was only 33 per day.
In fact, an entire section, or pod, is dark and unused, because there is simply no need at this time.
Flores does not think an entire unused pod should be a concern for taxpayers. "When this facility opened ten years ago there were youth residing in those units. So there was a need at that time."
So what happened after that? A new set of national guidelines known as the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, or JDAI, was adopted in Washoe County in 2004, the same year this building opened up with its $25 million price tag.
The JDAI guidelines emphasize counseling and intervention over lock-up for kids who commit less serious offenses, such as running away from home and shoplifting. The idea is to keep those kids out of places like Jan Evans.
"How do we keep kids out of incarceration that don't need to be there? How do we provide them referrals? How do we provide them better resources?" wonders Reno Police Department Deputy Chief Mac Venzon.
By providing those types services to more kids, facilities like Jan Evans end up housing fewer people. But those News 4 spoke to say that is a positive trade-off.
Washoe County Family Court Judge Egan Walker spent eight years cracking down on crime as a Deputy District Attorney before becoming a Judge. "I was like Attila the Hun, lock them all up. That's not the way to deal with children."
Walker said research shows the JDAI strategy of finding ways to keep kids out of lock-up pays off in the long run. "National studies show if you have a kid one night in detention, they are seven times more likely to penetrate the system. It is very counterintuitive."
Flores said undercrowding is not something she or her staff worries about. They choose to focus on the kids who are here. "I don't think it's an issue. We feel confident we are providing programming and supervision to provide for the safety of the community. And so, that's our goal here."
While Jan Evans is less than half-full, you cannot always predict the future. As our population continues to grow, we are likely to see more of a need to house young criminals.
One benefit of Jan Evans is that there is room to accomodate that kind of growth, if and when it occurs down the road.