Inmates should be prepared for life outside of prison before they are released, lawmakers agreed Wednesday as they approved money for a 200-bed home dubbed Casa Grande.
A subcommittee of the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means committees approved $680,000 for the home, less than the $984,000 proposed by Gov. Kenny Guinn to fund a 436-bed home. The Legislature would add another 200 beds in 2005.
Prisons Director Jackie Crawford said many inmates are waiving parole applications because they can't find housing or a job. And she said too many inmates who are released without help end up back in prison.
Crawford said the program has the potential to save the state a lot of money. She said it would enable the inmates to access a variety of community programs, many of them federally funded.
Sen. Sandra Tiffany, R-Henderson, said the transitional home "makes absolute sense." She said it takes inmates nearing the end of their sentences out of prison beds, gets them work and a place to live, helps them reunite with their families and provides counseling in a variety of areas.
Crawford said the proposed funding would allow her to open a facility by October 2004. She said the program is critical.
"Every honor camp is full," she said. "This is a real solution."
She was joined by Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, who described Casa Grande as "a critical piece to solving a lot of our problems and it's going to save us a whole lot of money."
The subcommittee voted to provide enough money to allow prison officials to lease a facility and get it in operation by October 2004.
The subcommittee also voted to end the private contract to provide prison medical services at Ely State Prison. Dr. Ted D'Amico estimated the preferred of two proposals to continue the contract at Ely would require lawmakers to add $1.25 million to the prison medical budget over the next two years. Having prison medical take over the operation, he said, would require lawmakers to add only about $240,000 to the budget.
"That's an easy one," said Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas.
Speaker Richard Perkins, D-Henderson, said his only problem with the decision was the difficulty prison officials had getting and keeping personnel before Ely's medical services were privatized.
D'Amico said after talking with the staff at Ely, he is confident most of them would stay if the state took over. He also said local officials, including the hospital in Ely, support the idea of the state operating the medical program and would be willing to contract with the prison to provide services they can't handle in-house.
He also pointed out that the contractor already threatened to pull out of Ely.
The panel voted to add the money necessary for D'Amico to take over the Ely medical operation.
Prison medical has a total budget of about $27.5 million a year and provides all types of medical services to inmates in Nevada institutions.