Delinquency and Crime in Nevada*
The United States has always had significantly higher crime rates than other developed nations, and its juvenile crime rates repeat this pattern. Scholars have offered various explanations for this discrepancy, ranging from structural reasons such as a high level of income inequality in the U.S. to the cultural values that encourage Americans to be individualistic, seek autonomy, and engage in violent conduct. Crime issues have received a good deal of attention from American scholars and politicians, with delinquency remaining a major focus of criminological inquiry for more than 50 years. While scholarly literature now includes many studies focused on different regions and cities, there are no large-scale empirical examination of crime and delinquency in the Silver State.
The present report will provide an overview of adult crime and juvenile delinquency in Nevada, offer possible explanations for the existing patterns, stress the importance of sustained attention to the crime issues from policy makers at all levels of government, list available community resources, and highlight the urgent need for conducting a systematic research in this area.
Violent crime rates in Nevada peaked in the mid 1990’s, showed a gradual decline through the rest of the decade, and then resumed their climb in 2000. Murder, non-negligent manslaughter, rape, aggravated assault, and arson – all major categories of violent crime have registered an increase in the last few years (see Figure 1 in the appendix). This dynamics mirrors the national trend, as there was a marked decrease in violent crimes in the United States throughout the 1990’s, followed by an upswing in all categories of violent crimes. One notable difference is that the crime rates in Nevada began to drop a few years later than in the rest of the country.
- In 2003, there were 197 murders per 100,000 residents in Nevada, compared to a low of 129 in 2000.
- Since 1960, the murder rate in Nevada has ranged from a low of 21murders per 100,000 people in 1961 to a high of 200 murders per 100,000 residents in 1996 (See Figure 2).
Nevada has followed a similar pattern in the domain of property crime – burglary, robbery, larceny theft, and auto theft. Property crime rates peaked in the mid 1990’s, showed a subsequent decline, and began to rise again over the last few years.
- Since 1960, property crime in Nevada has ranged from a low of 3,295 crimes per 100,000 residents in 1960 to a high of 7,941 crimes per 100,000 people in 1980.
- In 2003, there were 4,288 property crimes per 100,000 residents.
Nevada has also experienced a decrease in delinquency since the mid 1990’s.
- Since 1994, the rate of violent offenses committed by Nevada’s youth has steadily decreased from 446 violent delinquent acts for every 100,000 juveniles in 1994 to 237 violent offenses per 100,000 youth in 2002.
- Murder rates during this period dropped from 17 homicides committed for every 100,000 juveniles in 1994 to a juvenile murder rate of 4 in 2002.
- Criminal acts against property committed by juveniles during the same period declined as well, from 3,043 property offenses per 100,000 juveniles in 1994 to 1,982 property offenses for every 100,000 youths in 2002.
Patterns of Criminal Conduct in Nevada
Nevada ranks among the most criminal and delinquent states in the nation. It is also ahead of most other states in the property crime category. According to the statistics compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, http://www.fbi.gov/,
- Nevada has the 9 th highest rate of violent crimes, and it ranks 5 th in its rate of murder and non-negligent manslaughter, right behind the District of Columbia, Louisiana, Maryland, and Mississippi (see Table 1).
- Nevada has the 12 th highest total property crime rate and the 11 th highest burglary rate.
- Particularly striking is Nevada’s 3 rd highest rate of motor vehicle theft, exceeded only by the District of Columbia and Arizona.
- In 2003, there were 981 burglaries for every 100,000 Nevada residents and 930 motor vehicle thefts per 100,000 residents (see Table 1 for state comparisons).
Yet, the level of criminal activity in Nevada is comparable to that of other states in the Southwest where we find the highest rates of delinquent behavior in the U.S. Arizona exceeds Nevada in all types of crime, while California and Texas place in the 10 most crime-ridden states in the nation. The most recent arrest data for juveniles in Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, Texas, and California are summarized in Table 2 (data on New Mexico not available). As the statistics show,
- Nevada has the 3 rd highest rate of violent delinquency arrests among the southwestern states, the 2 nd highest murder rate for juvenile offenders, and it ranks 4 th out of the six southwestern states in juvenile property offenses.
- Since 1994, Nevada has fallen below the national average for violent delinquency. For most years since 1994, Nevada’s rate of murder committed by juveniles has exceeded the national average.
- However, in 2002, the most recent year for which data is available, the juvenile murder rate fell within the national average (See Figure 4).
- Nevada’s youth commit more property crimes on average than the nation’s juveniles as a whole (see Figure 5). This trend was evident since 1994 when Nevada property delinquency began to exceed the national average.
It is encouraging, however, that the gap between property crime rates for juveniles in Nevada and rates for the U.S. has been steadily decreasing since 1999.
Cross-County and Regional Trends
The Federal Bureau of Investigation compiles crime statistics in police jurisdictions with a population over 10,000. Here are some of the most important highlights from the latest FBI report (see Table 3 for details):
- The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department registered the highest violent crime rates, with 770 violent crimes per 100,000 Las Vegas residents.
- Reno Police Department reports the second highest rate of violent crime.
Interestingly, these two largest jurisdictions do not report the highest murder rates.
- While Las Vegas had the highest number of murders in 2003, North Las Vegas had the highest murder rate at nearly 13 murders for every 100,000 residents.
- The Boulder City murder rate also exceeded that of Las Vegas, but this is a statistical glitch that has to do with the small number of residents in this city (16,000) and only 2 murders recorded in 2003.
- The best indicators in this category was in Elko, which reported no murders in 2003.
- Property crime rates were highest in Reno with 5,725 reported property crimes per 100,000 residents, followed by Sparks and Las Vegas.
- The jurisdiction with the lowest reported property crime rate was Boulder City with 1,793 property crimes for every 100,000 residents.
The FBI report cites crime statistics in 6 Nevada counties (see Table 4). Here are the most notable findings:
- The Carson City Sheriff’s Department reported a rather high rate of violent crime at 480 violent crimes per 100,000 residents.
- Washoe county reported a rather low rate of violent crime compared to other county law enforcement jurisdictions at 84 violent crimes for every 100,000 residents.
- Nye and Carson City county Sheriff’s Departments reported the highest rates of property crime.
As we go over these statistics, we need to remember that these are crimes handled by county law enforcement jurisdictions, which do not count locally committed crimes overlapping with the reporting counties. In fact, the data may well provide an incomplete picture of crime in Nevada for two reasons: (a) law enforcement agencies are not required to submit this information and tend to do so irregularly; (b) since the locally compiled data focus on arrests, they may be a better indicator of the residents’ reporting activity than actual crime in the area. In other words, the data reflects only the delinquency known to the police. A promising strategy designed to address these problems is outlined in a report provided by the Nevada Department of Public Safety, http://dps.nv.gov/, which is currently developing a program to ensure that data provided by law enforcement agencies in Nevada is as uniform and accurate as possible.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation provides juvenile arrest data for Nevada counties, but the data is flawed for the reasons mentioned above. Because these statistics are based on arrests, they may be a better indicator of law enforcement activity than of delinquent behavior. Hence, we should approach with caution the following figures, treating them as estimates rather than as an evidence of delinquent behavior across Nevada counties (see Table 5).
- In 2002, the overall rate of delinquency was highest in White Pine county with 27,935 delinquent acts for every 100,000 residents aged 10 to 17, and lowest rate was in Elko county with only 26 offenses for every 100,000 juveniles between the ages of 10 and 17.
- White Pine county had the highest overall rate of delinquency, but the majority of these acts were non-violent, low-level property crimes. While White Pine county reported the highest number of property offenses at 2,828 criminal acts for every 100,000 youths aged 10 to 17, this county had a much lower rate of violent delinquency compared to other counties.
- The next highest rate of property offenses were found in Washoe, Clark , and Carson City respectively. Again, we should bear in mind the effect that the sparse population has on statistical indicators. Thus in 2002, there were fewer arrests of juveniles in White Pine compared to the number in Clark county, but there are more crimes per resident reported by White Pine county.
- The counties with the highest rates of violent delinquent acts were Churchill with 355 violent acts of delinquency for every 100,000 residents aged 10 to 17 and Pershing county with 322 acts of violence per 100,000 youths.
- Counties with no reported violent delinquency include Esmeralda, Humboldt, Eureka, Storey, Nye, and Elko.
It is noteworthy that the most urbanized counties did not have the highest rates of overall delinquency or property delinquency. However, the two most populous counties were the only ones to report murders committed by juveniles in 2002 (5 in Washoe county and 5 in Clark county). In sum, while juvenile property crime seems to affect both urban and rural areas, the most violent delinquents are concentrated in the largest urban centers. As suggested above, these patterns may reflect the fact that the counties with highest reported delinquency may be the ones most likely to seek out and arrest juveniles for their illegal behavior.
The Social Context of Criminal Behavior in Nevada
Nevada crime indicators have shot up in recent years, but much of this increase happened in the Las Vegas and Reno metropolitan areas. Since the crime situation is typically the worst in the heavily urbanized areas, the present analysis will focus on the factors contributing to crime in Nevada cities.
The factor most responsible for the crime increase in Nevada is the dramatic increase in population and the range of issues traceable to rapid population growth. The population of Nevada has exploded exponentially in the last two decades. This demographic pressure is known to (a) strain to the criminal justice system, (b) sap social welfare resources, and (c) decrease the efficiency of community response in urban neighborhoods.
An influx of new residents tends to strain relations among current residents in established neighborhoods. A large body of research focused on crime in urban areas has shown a deteriorated collective efficacy in the areas facing a surge in its population. Among the negative consequences are a lack of mutual trust, unwillingness to supervise youth, and the failure to organize the neighborhood efforts to maintain social order. When residential stability is low, collective efficacy diminishes, as it becomes more difficult to form interpersonal relationships, mobilize local communities, and maintain informal social control over juveniles and defend neighbors’ property. In addition, residents of transitional neighborhoods are less likely to involve themselves in community service and join organizations fighting crime. Nevada ’s high rates of property crime and juvenile delinquency can be explained in part by the high population turnover in many urban neighborhoods.
Nevada youth and their counterparts in the United States experience social problems unknown to their grandparents. While in many ways social conditions have improved in the last two decades, improvements did not help much to stem either adult crime or juvenile delinquency. Studies show that crime rates are very sensitive to (a) rapid population growth; (b) economic hardship; and (c) weakening of institutional controls.
Rapid Population Growth
As the population numbers shoot up, the available resources have to be stretched thinner and thinner. The programs and facilities funded by the state are operating under much stress, with crime prevention programs in all Nevada counties struggling to stay in business and deliver services to local populations.
Changes in residence and school are linked to delinquent behavior. When youth move to new places and begin to adapt to new social and academic surroundings, they are less likely to form positive attachments with their schools and often find it difficult to form relationships with conventional peer groups. The strain and social isolation produced by these changes increases chances that a young man or woman will be drawn to delinquent peer groups. The effect of changes in residence is acutely felt in Nevada’s cities, where the proportion of new residents is very high. The problem is further exacerbated by the economic pressures on Nevada residents.
The relationship between poverty and crime is a complex one. It is mediated by structural factors like job availability, training options, and other opportunities for advancement. So, whenever we the normal avenues for personal advancement are blocked by structural factors, crime rates are likely to go up and delinquency rates will rise.
- In 1993, 11.5% of the residents of Nevada had incomes below the poverty line, while 16.7% of families with children 17 and under lived in poverty.
As long as poverty rates stay in Nevada, the criminological situation in the region will remain tense.
Even more important, researchers have found, is relative economic hardship, which correlates with crime. Income inequality is positively associated with crime rates across cities, states, and nations. Social scientists have shown that crime and delinquency are most tangible in the urban neighborhoods with high proportions of residents living in extreme poverty.
- In Nevada, the gap between the richest and poorest families with children grew 10% between 1980 and 1996.
It is possible that this increase in income inequality among families with children has contributed to changes in rates of delinquency, especially in the poorest urban neighborhoods.
Weakening of Institutional Control
Students of crime stress the importance of the family and the school as institutions central to effective social control. Juvenile delinquency is more prevalent among children who fail to form attachments to school and parents. Single parent households contribute to the delinquency problem because these families are less able to provide effective supervision of juveniles. This link sheds light on the delinquency situation in Nevada.
- The number of single parent households increased in Nevada from 12% to 28 % between 1970 and 1997 – a trend observed in other parts of the country.
Children who experience family disruption are more likely to be delinquent. Changes in family structure caused by parental divorce or remarriage are associated with delinquency. As divorce rates continue to climb across the nation, weakened family structure spurs delinquency rates across Nevada as well.
Schools help supervise youth behavior and provide necessary life skills. Yet when schools fail to engage students in conventional activities, they are less likely to form attachments to school and learn to value education. Many studies have confirmed a link between poor educational attainment and criminal behavior. Improving the educational success rate of young people is important in controlling delinquency. There is a lesson Nevadans can learn from this insight:
- The school drop-out rates have increased in Nevada from an average of 16.7% in 1991-1993 to an average of 18.6% in the years 1994 to 1996.
Supervision of Criminal Offenders in Nevada
A number of sentencing options are available for individuals convicted of crime in Nevada, including placement in a correctional facility and living in a community under supervision.
According to the National Institute of Corrections, http://nicic.org/, Nevada has 22 jail facilities with a rated capacity of 7,306. The Department of Corrections is responsible for the management of 8 institutions, 10 camps, one contract facility, and one restitution center. The data on prison population compiled by a Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin, (http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pubalp2.htm), Nevada had a rated capacity of 11,122 inmates at year end 2003 ( Harrison and Beck, 2004). Here are several highlights from this data source:
- At the year end 2003, there were 10,478 adult offenders under the jurisdiction of state and local correctional facilities in the state of Nevada.
- Nevada’s correctional facility population grew by 0.6% in 2003, less than the national growth of 2.1%.
- Nevada’s incarceration rate is slightly lower than the national rate. Specifically, Nevada has 462 residents per 100,000 in its facilities compared to the national rate of 482 per 100,000.
- While Nevada is incarcerating people at a lower rate than the national average, the incarceration rate is growing faster than the national rate. From 1995 to 2003, Nevada’s incarceration rate grew 4.0% while the national incarceration rate grew 3.3%.
- In 2001, it cost $17,572 per inmate to house each prisoner in a correctional facility (NIC).
Although Nevada’s overall incarceration rate is lower than the national average, the state is incarcerating female offenders at a higher rate than the U.S. as a whole.
- At year end 2003, Nevada housed 880 women in its correctional facilities and local jails.
- 79 females per 100,000 female residents are being housed in Nevada’s institutions while serving sentences greater than one year. The national rate is 62 females per 100,000 female residents.
- Nevada’s female inmate population is growing at a faster rate than the national rate. From 1995 to 2003, the incarceration rate grew 6.5% compared to the national growth of 5.0%
In addition to housing offenders in secure facilities, the Nevada correctional authorities place offenders under community supervision. The Bureau of Justice Statistics, http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/, reports the number of offenders placed under community supervision in Nevada (Glaze and Palla, 2004):
- As of January 1, 2003, Nevada had 12,290 adult offenders on probation. It is estimated that 5,869 offenders were placed on probation during 2003 while another 6,000 were removed from probation supervision. At the end of 2003, Nevada had 12,159 offenders on probation for a net loss of 1.1%.
- Nevada supervises offenders on probation at a lower rate than all but three states. Specifically, Nevada has 716 per 100,000 adult residents on probation compared to the national rate of 1,876. Only New Hampshire (426), West Virginia (487), and Utah (646) have lower rates.
A number of offenders are placed on parole following release from a correctional facility.
- As of January 1, 2003, Nevada had 3,971 adult offenders on probation. Nearly 3,000 offenders were placed on parole during 2003 and approximately 2,800 were released from parole during the year. While the probation population declined during 2003, the parole population grew by 3.9% to 4,126 during the year 2003.
- The state has 243 per 100,000 adult residents on parole compared to the national rate of 357 per 100,000.
Youth found to be responsible for criminal or delinquent behavior may be supervised in a number of ways. Like their adult counterparts, young men and women may be placed on probation for supervision in the community. Alternatively, they may be committed to the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), http://www.dcfs.state.nv.us/, which provides supervision and treatment programs. DCFS is also responsible for providing parole services to youth returning to the community upon release from a training center.
Data on the number of youth under supervision in Nevada is not available.
Treatment of Offenders in Nevada
We should not expect that simply incarcerating or putting under supervision criminal offenders will reduce their propensity to re-offend. To change criminal behaviors we need to take other practical steps. The State of Nevada offers a number of treatment services to its criminal population, yet information is scarce on how these services are allocated. The following services are available to adult offenders in the Nevada correctional and special treatment institutions:
Substance Abuse Programs
- Therapeutic communities
- Boot camps
- DUI programs
- Psycho-education services
- A Change in Thinking
Sexual Treatment of Offenders in Prison (S.T.O.P)
According to the NDOC website, S.T.O.P. is a year-long program that addresses criminal thinking errors, emotional deficits, relationships, and relapse prevention. The program is offered at the following facilities:
Special Needs Programs
The HighDesertState Prison offers “Growing Straight” to offenders between the ages of 14 and 22 sentenced to DOC. Youth are housed in the program for a minimum of one year as they acclimate to prison and begin receiving education and treatment services.
The Northern Nevada Correctional Center offers a “True Grit’ program for elderly inmates or middle-aged, disable inmates. The program provides mental health and physical health services as well as program activities such as art classes and “therapy dog” visits.
Gender-Specific Programming is offered to female offenders with the focus on family reunification. Female inmates are also provided opportunities to participate in parent skills, receive vocational training, and counseling services.
Going Home Prepared, http://www.doc.nv.gov/programs/ghp.php, is a re-entry program provided at the Southern Desert Correctional Center. This program is provided to violent or serious inmates during their last 6 months of incarceration is intended to provide treatment and services aimed at easing the transition from a prison setting to the community. The program requires all participants to engage in victim empathy, criminal thinking errors, and life skills courses. Upon leaving the institutional setting, participants are placed on a minimum of 6 months Intensive Supervision parole and receive parole services for a minimum on one year.
Street Readiness is a program that teaches life skills, including time and money management, to inmates preparing to be released back to the community.
The Nevada Department of Corrections, http://www.doc.nv.gov/, is opening a TransitionCenter, http://www.doc.nv.gov/programs/re-entry.php, in Las Vegas in December 2005. The center will target non-violent offenders nearing the end of the sentence. It intends to offer employment assistance, family counseling, and educational services to its participants.
The Northern Nevada Restitution Center, http://www.doc.nv.gov/nnrc/index.php, houses male inmates during the last 18 months of their sentence. It provides inmates an opportunity to make restitution payments by working while serving their sentence.
Other services offered in general population inmates include:
- Education services
- Vocational services
- Mental health groups, including criminal thinking errors, survivors of past victimization groups, and family violence groups
- Monitoring of psychotropic medications
- Religious services
The following services are offered to youth under the jurisdiction of the Nevada Division of Child & Family Services:
- The Caliente Youth Center, http://www.dcfs.state.nv.us/DCFS_CalienteYouth.htm, houses both male and female juvenile delinquents. It provides services targeting mental health, cognitive restructuring, educational services, and vocational training.
- The Summit View Youth Correctional Facility, http://www.dcfs.state.nv.us/DCFS_SummitView.htm, serves violent youth ranging in age from 12 to 18. It offers mental health and educational services in addition to medical services.
- The Nevada Youth Training Center, http://nytc.state.nv.us/, provides educational and vocational services in addition substance abuse and mental health programming. Youth housed at the training center may also receive individual counseling.
- The Youth Parole Bureau, http://www.dcfs.state.nv.us/DCFS_YouthParole.htm, provides re-entry programming to serious and violent youth. Youth in this program may participate in programming aimed at substance abuse, anger management, life skills, and vocational skills.
- The Youth Parole Bureau, http://nytc.state.nv.us/parole.html, is also in the process of piloting a transitional program. The program is intended to provide intensive wrap-around services to youth with multiple needs including mental health, substance abuse, and behavioral issues.
What We Can Do to Combat Crime in Nevada
Scholars in the fields of developmental criminology and psychology argue that minor delinquency is common for most adolescents and that most youths will desist from criminal activity as they become young adults. If this is indeed the case, the best way to deal with minor property offenses is to provide effective supervision of youth during this “crime-prone” time of life.
Violent youth may benefit from programs designed both to increase supervision and to replace delinquency with pro-active behavior. Our primary focus should be on programs targeting violent delinquent behavior. These programs are especially welcome in the large urban areas of Las Vegas , Reno , and Carson City , regions with the highest rates of violent delinquency.
We can take a page from other cities that have mounted concerted efforts to deal with delinquency. As their experience suggests, the first step we need to take is to (a) study the social characteristics and behaviors of the most delinquent youth; and (b) evaluate the scope and effectiveness of existing social welfare policies aimed at controlling delinquency. After interviewing youth and assessing existing programs, the cities with successful juvenile delinquency programs were able to retool existing welfare organizations to focus them on the most at-risk youth. The following policy changes have roven to be most effective in containing and preventing juvenile crime:
- Increase police patrol of youth during after-school hours
- Support afterschool activities designed to increase students’ cognitive and social skills
- Provide opportunities for community service
- Increase opportunities for legal money-making activities for youth
- Coordinate the work of local government and youth-serving organizations/agencies
- Build coalitions of small youth serving organizations with similar efforts and goals
No large scale study of delinquents and programs catering to their needs has been conducted in Nevada to date. Yet, policy changes should not be implemented without a detailed study of both juvenile offending patterns and current correctional practices in Nevada ’s cities. Nevada should strive to implement the most successful policies developed elsewhere in the country and aimed at helping young men and women at risk.
Prospects for the Future and Work Ahead
While Nevada offers a number of treatment services to its incarcerated population, the quality of these programs bears closer scrutiny. The State of Nevada should review systematically the designs and delivery of these programs to determine how consistent they are with the best practices, with “what works” for reducing recidivism (Gendreau, 1996). Studies show that the most promising programs have the following features:
- Effective programs to combat recidivism vary the intensity and duration of services based on risk. The highest risk offenders should receive the most intensive services.
- Programs should target factors related to recidivism. Appropriate treatment targets include antisocial attitudes, antisocial peer associations, substance abuse, anger management, family functioning, and education/vocation.
- The most effective programs provide opportunities for participants to practice new behaviors and skills and offer appropriate reinforcement on the use of those skills.
While some of Nevada’s programs may provide services consistent with the literature on effective interventions, it is also likely that those administering the programs may need assistance in providing such services. The State should consider conducting thorough assessments of its programming and services in an effort to identify systematic weaknesses in programming. It should then consider providing training and curricula development in an effort to assist programs in reducing recidivism.
While Nevada ’s crime rates have followed national trends, the Siler State ranks among the states with the highest rates of nearly all types of crime. This situation needs to be understood in the context of the population explosion that hit hard Nevada ’s urban areas and that is known to exacerbate social problems contributing to crime.
Nevada ’s cities have lagged behind other urban areas in conducting research on juvenile delinquency and related social welfare programs aimed at youth that is necessary to construct policies to effectively control delinquent behavior.
Data Sources and Suggested Readings
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Bureau of the Census (Various) Poverty in the United States : Current population Reports: Consumer Income, Series P60-201. Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.
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Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics. 1998. America ’s children: Key national indicators of well-being. Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.
Gendreau, P. (1996) “The Principles of Effective Intervention with Offenders.” In A.T. Harland (ed.), Choosing Correctional Options That Work: Defining the Demand and Evaluating the Supply. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
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National Center for Education Statistics. 1997. Dropout Rates in the United States: 1996 . Washington D.C.: U.S. Department of Education.
National Institute of Corrections: http://nicic.org/StateCorrectionsStatistics/nv.htm
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Nevada Division of Child & Family Services: http://dcfs.state.nv.us=
Sampson, Robert and William Julius Wilson. 1995. “Toward a theory of race, crime, and urban inequality.” Pp. 37-54 in Crime and Inequality, eds. John Hagan and Ruth D. Peterson, Stanford Press.
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This report has been prepared by Dr. Stephanie L. Kent, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Nevada Las Vegas , 4505 Maryland Parkway, Box 455033 , Las Vegas , NV 89154-5033 . Telephone: 702-895-0258, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; and Dr. Deborah K. Shaffer, Department of Criminal Justice, University of Nevada Las Vegas, 4505 Maryland Parkway, Las Vegas, NV 89154. Telephone: 702-895-0236, Email: email@example.com.