RENO, Nev. (AP) — The state of Nevada has removed all youths in its custody from a privately owned juvenile rehabilitation center where a riot erupted over the weekend about 70 miles southeast of Reno — the fourth uprising there in fourth months, a state official said Wednesday.
All four youths who had been housed there under the jurisdiction of the Nevada Division of Child & Family Services were sent to other facilities after the most recent outbreak of violence at the Rite of Passage-Silver State Academy near Yerington, said Chrystal Main, the division's social services chief.
"My agency has no children there effective (Tuesday) or the day before. We removed them after the latest uprising," Main told The Associated Press.
Main declined to specify whether they were removed out of concern for their safety or if they had been involved in the uprising that sent one staff member to the hospital and hurt three others.
The Nevada agency "wanted to ensure our youth were in the most appropriate placement," she said. Most of the residents of the facility for at-risk teens are there on court orders from California as an alternative to prison, Main said.
Authorities say about 25 teenagers were at the facility on tribal land when some armed themselves with makeshift weapons and set fire to two buildings Saturday night. Ten escaped, but they were recaptured by the following day.
The state fire marshal is investigating the arsons, and Yerington Tribal Police are looking into the cause of the riot, Lyon County Sheriff Al McNeil said. He is increasingly concerned about the safety of the community and is pressing school officials to make changes so it doesn't happen again.
State records in Nevada and California show the school has been under scrutiny for several years based on complaints about staff shortages and a lack of supervision of the facility that opened in 1987. It housed as many as 163 youths in 1999, but 100 or fewer since 2012.
Main said 25 youths from Nevada were there last year. She said Wednesday she doesn't know if any more would be sent there in the future. Her division doesn't have any regulatory oversight of the academy itself, only the Nevada individuals ordered there, Main said.
The academy's population averaged 72 with a capacity of 110 for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2014, according to the Nevada Legislative Counsel Bureau.
The Counsel Bureau's audit division concluded in a report in October 2011 the academy "adequately protects the health, safety and welfare of the children."
But it cited a number of areas where improvement was needed, including the administration of medication, security of facility keys and the need to "strengthen its supervision of youths."
During a site visit that June, state officials noted "three instances of inadequate supervision" when staff to youth ratios ranged from 1-to-14 to 1-to-25. The recommended ratio is 1-to-6 during day shifts, not to exceed 1-to-8 at other times.
"Although ROP-SSA is licensed as a group home, it serves medium to high at-risk youth. Inadequate supervision may have contributed to youth searching for inappropriate websites, youth using inappropriate language and contraband type items noted on campus," according to the 2011 audit.
"Inadequate supervision of youths could result in other inappropriate behaviors and unsafe conditions," said the report, which noted that school officials responded that they have since instructed staff to ensure ratios are kept in compliance with recommended standards.
The academy is a nonprofit, private school operated by the Rite of Passage Adolescent Treatment Centers and Schools based in Minden, Nevada. It is licensed by Yerington Paiute Tribe and the California Department of Social Services' Community Care Licensing Division.
Officials for the state agency in Sacramento did not immediately respond to telephone calls or emails seeking comment Wednesday. The agency's website indicates the out-of-state group home license was recertified in August 2013, effective through June 2014. More current records were not immediately available.
The California agency had placed the facility on a semi-annual review instead of the normal annual in 2012 after a series of complaints ranging from treatment of teens to facility conditions and background checks for staff.
Rick Wright, Rite of Passage's director of human resources, said Wednesday that he couldn't comment on the continuing investigation. He told the AP he did not know how many students currently were housed at the facility and had been given no indication any other jurisdictions were removing youths.
Wright said earlier the school increased staffing after the riot as a preventative measure but that "everything was back to normal by Sunday." He said the staffing ratio at the time of the incident was approximately 1-to-3.