VEGAS LOST: Nevada Youth Training Center in Elko giving kids a second chance

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There are 60 kids walking the halls of the Nevada Youth Training Center in Elko.

More than half of them are from Clark County. They are the kids responsible for serious, sometimes violent crime and they will serve their terms four hundred miles from home in a small-town high in the mountains.

“I want them to be adjusted,” says NYTC Superintendent Greg Thornton of his hopes for the kids here. “I want them to understand there’s a better way they don’t have to be angry.”

The first thing you might notice at the NYTC is what you don’t see. Elko has an open-air facility. There is no fencing, we are a short walk away from the highway. Kids who are considered a flight risk wear bright orange shirts. They live in one of two style housing units; the first is an open room with bunk beds.

“If you’re a staff you can stand right here keep your head on a swivel and see everything that’s going on,” Thornton explains.

The second is starkly different, individual cells line the circular pod. Doors with small windows give an inmate privacy. In some cases, they segregate a kid from others.

Thornton tells us it’s a matter of policy and the longest a kid is allowed in solitary is 24 hours, although they try and keep it to 2-3.

The crown jewel here is their school. The Nevada Youth Training Center has the state’s only independent school. Independence High is free from any school district.

They can design their own lesson plans, appeal directly to the state for funding, and apply for grants. Partnerships with universities like Oregon State give kids lessons on interviewing and allow older inmates to take classes at the local community college.

Mike Beardall is the principal. “I love watching the kids grow,” He tells us. “That’s why I got into this. When I was 28, I had my first daughter and my wife said ‘what do you want to do?’ and ‘I said I’m working construction in Vegas, that’s never going to go away.’ Then it was 2008 and it went away.”

Beardall’s focus is on designing programs that will get teenagers here ready for what happens after high school. He has introduced new technology into the classrooms.

Now, among the basic education courses, you will find 3D printers. Students design and build items. The teenagers are responsible for basic maintenance of staff cars. The hands-on training can be used to secure jobs after their release.

The biggest difficulty is keeping the staff full. The NYTC has to compete with Elko’s mining companies. Turnover rates at the Training Center hover around 25%.

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