Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, on Wednesday questioned why Nevada puts far more money into drug testing inmates than parolees.
"This seems really out of whack," she said during a review of Parole and Probation and Department of Corrections budgets.
Leslie pointed out that the budget for drug testing parolees is cut in half to about $26,000 in the governor's proposed budget, while the prison budget for testing inmates is increased from $100,000 to more than $174,000.
"I would think offenders would have much greater access to drugs outside the prisons," she said.
Parole and probation Administrator Amy Wright agreed drug problems are a serious problem for parolees and one of the most common reasons they end up back in prison.
Deputy Corrections Director Glen Whorton said the prison budget wasn't being increased at the expense of Parole and Probation. He said it was increased to meet state requirements that they test 5 percent of the prison population each month and 10 percent of those in drug programs.
While he didn't have details of how many of those tested are positive for illegal substances, Whorton said the prison system is proud it is a very low number.
"(The prison system) is not hermetically sealed, but it's close," Whorton said after the hearing.
Leslie said she wants to take a better look at those budgets because she believes there should be more money available to test parolees to ensure they don't slip back into drug habits that helped get them in trouble in the first place.
Lawmakers also questioned a plan to convert Warm Springs Prison behind Nevada State Prison on Fifth Street from medium to minimum security.
Whorton told the subcommittee composed of Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means members that that would allow a 27-person reduction in staff and provide space for some 500 minimum-security inmates.
Warm Springs is currently a medium-security facility and home to the Wings substance abuse program.
Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas, asked why Warm Springs would continue to need a warden since none of the state's 13 conservation camps have one.
Whorton said those camps have about 120 inmates while Warm Springs would have 500.
He said the the space is needed because changes in classification ordered by Corrections Director Jackie Crawford will move more inmates into minimum custody.
He said the Warm Springs warden is also responsible for operation of the Silver Springs Conservation Camp and the Northern Nevada Restitution Center in Reno. Altogether, they house some 700 inmates.
Finally, lawmakers were told the budget seeks to unite all correctional programs from drug treatment to literacy, English as a second language and academic classes under one unit headed by Dorothy Nash Holmes.
Holmes told the committee that means doing psychological and educational testing as inmates arrive to determine exactly what programs and help they need. And she said it means pulling the drug and other such programs together. Giunchigliani said she wants to track all the various substance abuse programs being operated and bring some continuity to them.
Holmes said education and treatment programs are the way to ensure inmates who leave can make it on the outside without committing more crimes.
"All the national studies show correctional programs can reduce recidivism by 30 percent and drug programs can reduce it by 70 percent," she said.
She told lawmakers 42 percent of inmates don't function at the eighth-grade level.
"We're trying to organize programs that are done 19 different ways in 19 different facilities into a centralized program," she said.
The committee will review more details of the proposed prisons budgets later.