More than 200 alien inmates in Nevada's prison system will be turned over to federal immigration officials for deportation within two months.
Nevada's Parole Board; the Pardons Board, chaired by Gov. Jim Gibbons; and the Department of Corrections are working together on the project to identify inmates they believe can be released to the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
"We're just trying to free up some prison beds," said Parole Commission Chairwoman Dorla Salling.
David Smith, management analyst for the Parole Board, said most of the inmates on the list are Mexican nationals, but none are serving time for violent or sex offenses.
"Most of them are first offenders in for property or drug crimes," he said. "We think they're good candidates to be deported."
He said violent and sex offenders won't be in the group because "we don't think we need to be creating a danger in those other countries."
He said INS has agreed to take the inmates into federal custody for deportation.
The idea was suggested by Supreme Court Justice James Hardesty as one method of reducing overcrowding in Nevada's prisons. He said there are more than 400 illegal aliens in the system. Prison officials said it would save the state more than $20,000 a year per inmate to deport them.
And it would free up badly needed beds in Nevada's overcrowded prisons.
Smith said there are two groups of inmates. The first consists of 49 inmates already paroled by the board but still in prison because they haven't yet served their minimum sentences. He said the Pardons Board, which consists of the governor, the attorney general and all seven members of the Supreme Court, meets April 25 to vote on commuting the sentences of those 49 inmates so that they can be immediately released to INS.
The second group of 180 inmates is not yet eligible for a parole hearing. Smith said the Parole Board will meet May 2-4 to review their cases.
"The (Parole) board can grant parole in May contingent upon commutation by the Pardons Board," he said.
After that happens May 29, those inmates also would be released into federal custody and deported.
Altogether, 229 inmates are on the list. The majority are from Mexico, but there are also some from Central and South America and Asia. The majority are serving time for drug offenses.
Prison bed space is one of the biggest issues facing the 2007 Legislature. The inmate population is nearly 1,000 more than what was projected and budgeted for two years ago. As a result, the prison system is faced with $60 million in costs to install modular units in existing prisons as soon as possible, plus the operating costs to manage and care for the extra prisoners.
In addition, prison officials say they need nearly $300 million in construction for the coming two years to house more prison beds. Total construction estimates for the next decade total $1.9 billion.
The news is expected to receive a warm reaction from lawmakers since, when the information was presented in March, Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, and Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, both liked the idea.
"That could substantially reduce our overcrowding situation," Buckley said.
"If there's the capability of deporting illegal aliens who have committed felonies, we should check into that," Raggio said.
• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at email@example.com or 687-8750.
By the numbers
Inmates to be deported: 229
Cost saved per inmate, per year: $20,000
Number of illegal aliens in system: 400
Number of inmates in system above capacity: 1,000
Prison construction costs
To add modular units ASAP: $60 million
Two-year construction, to add more beds: $300 million
Total for next decade: $1.9 billion