Prison reform study calls for emphasis on preparing inmates for society

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Nevada's prison system is so focused on dangerous, hardened offenders it ignores the needs of the majority who will eventually be released into society, a governor's study committee says.

Gov. Kenny Guinn appointed the Study Committee on Corrections to make recommendations to reform Nevada's correctional system. A hearing on its draft report is scheduled for 9 a.m. June 7 in the Legislative Building, Room 3138.

The committee says Nevada's prisons classify twice as many inmates as high and medium risk as the national average. The report says Nevada lacks services, such as substance-abuse treatment and education and employment skills, to help inmates make it once released.

Most offenders are released without transitional services and community support to help them make a successful life, the report said.

Prisons Director Jackie Crawford has estimated up to 90 percent of inmates have some form of substance-abuse problem.

The report said prison beds should be reserved "only for the most serious and long-term offenders." It urged community supervision to manage non-violent offenders, saying it is less expensive and better for the inmate. The study also said many more inmates should be reclassified to a lower security level.

It costs $44.28 per day for each inmate in prison, only $17.75 a day at minimum security camps and even less for those being managed in a community-based program.

The study recommends delaying the third phase of High Desert State Prison and using some of the money to create the Indian Springs Community Work Center and expand other minimum security camps.

It recommended Indian Springs be made into a 604-bed minimum custody center with both educational and programming facilities for inmates.

Because a third of the nearly 10,000 inmates are over age 40 and more than 300 of them over age 60, the study recommends using some of the High Desert budget to create a geriatric prison at Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City.

The facility would also house mental patients with special needs as well as inmates with serious medical problems.

The study calls for a Community Corrections Division responsible for expanding the number of jobs for inmates, organizing and managing substance abuse and after-care treatment programs, coordinating educational programs and developing programs to help inmates reenter society after release.

"Through the use of reentry and community work centers, Nevada could save a projected $30.5 million in construction costs and more than $3 million a year in operating costs," the study said.

The study points out that fewer than 1 percent of the correction's budget is dedicated to offender programming that could help them learn to live successfully in society. It says Nevada has even ignored opportunities for grants and other nonstate funding to educate offenders and teach them life skills.

"It is critical that Nevada begin to recognize the importance of inmate programming, both as a management tool to control behavior of inmates while in prison and, more importantly, as a proven method for changing criminal behavior," the study says.

The study urges the governor and lawmakers to provide funding for half-way houses, community based "day reporting" centers and social services to help inmates make it on the outside.

Members of the study included Crawford, who acted as chairwoman; state Sen. Mark Amodei, R-Carson City; Assemblyman Greg Brower, R-Reno; Public Safety Director Richard Kirkland; other legislators, a judge and professor.


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