Auditors criticize sex offender certification panels

Legislative auditors say the state's Sex Offender Certification Panels are flying by the seat of their pants without uniform rules and procedures for deciding who should get a parole hearing and who should not.

According to auditors, the result is sharp differences between the decisions of Northern and Southern Nevada panels over which prisoners get rejected and which win recommendations for parole.

Every sex offender must get through a certification panel before he or she can be paroled in Nevada. The panel's job is to assess how much of a danger that inmate would be if released and to make sure the dangerous offenders stay in prison. A total of 1,108 certification hearings were held in 1999.

"It looks like we could be really liable for lawsuits," said audit subcommittee chairman Sen. Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora.

"There's a lot of potential liability here," Prison Director Jackie Crawford agreed.

The certification panels are composed of a psychologist or psychiatrist, a representative from the prison and a representative from the mental health division, but there is no procedure for picking those panel members, no training requirements and no set of policies to direct how they do business.

Auditors said some panels used a point system and others didn't; some documented their decisions and others didn't; some refused recommendations to those who refused to admit their crime and others didn't.

As a result, the percentage of sex offenders who were awarded certifications saying they could qualify for parole ranged from just 12 percent at Warm Springs and the Nevada State Prison to 40 percent at Southern Desert Correctional Center.

Prison officials led by Crawford told the committee they are now working out a complete and detailed system to fix the certification panels and will ask the 2001 Legislature to create a permanent certification panel of trained representatives who will use the same procedures and standards for evaluating all sex offenders who come before them.


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