A Future Denied

Rising Incarceration Rates for Reno Millennials

By Matt Bieker

While some millennials discuss plans for higher education or future careers, hundreds of others surrender their futures every year due to a real threat to struggling young adults: incarceration.

Millennials accounted for the majority of new prisoners in 2012, according to the Nevada Department of Corrections’ Annual Statistic Report. Washoe County imprisoned 1,095 offenders in 2012—males and females younger than 34 accounted for 57 percent of new prison intakes.

Over the past decade, Nevada prisons have held an average of 12,168 prisoners each year. However, the greatest incarceration numbers occurred in 2007, at the beginning of the Great Recession—matching national imprisonment trends. The years after have shown a slight decline in total inmate population, but the last time the number fell below 11,000 in Nevada was in 2003.

These trends paint a rather worrying, but not very surprising picture. As Reno’s heavily gaming-centered economy faltered in the wake of the national financial crisis, the young and financially unsupported quickly found themselves without prospects. The correlation between poverty and crime rates might suggest that, without viable means of employment, more millennials have considered crime as an alternative.

A historical exhibit at the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office and prison.

For inmates younger than 34, the most cited crimes for imprisonment fell under the category “property”—presumably theft or burglary. Local pawnshops have regulations for detecting stolen goods that thieves may be attempting to sell, but there are still easy ways to make profits selling stolen goods.

The second and third most cited crimes fall under the categories “violence” and “drugs” respectively. Millennials are not just struggling with making ends meet, then. Some may be seeking various ways to cope.

The Reno Gazette-Journal reported that use of and deaths related to heroin are on the rise. “Ten or 12 years ago we saw no kids using heroin or opiates,” said Kevin Quint, bureau chief for the state Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Agency in an April 5 report. “The last four or five years, the numbers have increased dramatically.” Three percent of Nevada high school students have used heroin according to the same RGJ story.

819 millennials were imprisoned in Nevada for drug related offenses–which may include possession, sale, or production of illegal drugs–in 2012. Incarceration will always be a threat to the “disadvantaged,” and that term is quickly expanding to include America’s youngest generation of potential workers.


Photos by Matt Bieker

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