Intermediate parole sanctions would reduce prison crowding
November 13, 2009
CARSON CITY, Nev. – Nevada prison director Howard Skolnik told the commission studying judicial administration Thursday the department’s best hope for reducing the state’s inmate population is a program to reduce the number of parole violators who get tossed back in prison.
He said that program is trying to develop intermediate sanctions for the nearly 1,700 inmates who are returned for parole and probation violations each year. He said it has the potential to free up 600 prison beds, greatly reducing the potential need to build more prisons in the state.
Many of those violators are for such things as drug use rather than new crimes.
Instead of going back to prison, those eligible would instead be sent to the state’s transitional housing institution Casa Grande in Las Vegas where they would receive counseling, drug and anger management treatment and whatever else they need to clean up their act.
“I’m very optimistic this is going to make a big difference,” he told the Commission on the Administration of Justice.
Skolnik said the prison is currently seeing fewer inmates than projected when the budget was built. He said while it seems counterintuitive, crime rates tend to fall in bad economic times. He said, unfortunately, as the recession ends and the economy recovers, he expects crime rates to rise again, creating the need for more prison beds.
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Skolnik said, however, his biggest concern is that some incident will occur with a parolee and cause a reaction by the Legislature or administration that sharply reduces the number of inmates paroled or otherwise released.
“Public policy in corrections has never been driven by common sense,” he said. “It’s driven by single events. The media loves to make big deals out of single incidents.”
He said recently, those concerns were raised after a car thief living in Casa Grande was charged with murder.
Skolnik said there was no major outcry because the victim was a drug dealer.
“But if it had been a pregnant woman on her way to work, there would be no Casa Grande.”
The past two legislative sessions have eased some of the restrictions on paroling inmates which were clamped down following the 1995 murder of Sparks police officer Larry Johnson by a parolee. Those changes, driven by lawmakers’ concerns over the cost of building more prison beds, have helped ease the overcrowding and made it possible to delay building a new $250 million prison.
The commission selected Assemblyman William Horne as its chairman, replacing Supreme Court Chief Justice Jim Hardesty who chaired the panel for the past two years.