Amended prison bill prevents release of current inmates

A last-minute amendment to legislation designed to relieve prison overcrowding will prevent it from releasing any current inmates early, prison officials said Friday.

AB510 would double the good-time credits inmates can receive and, as written, do so retroactively back to 1997.

Deputy Director of Corrections Fritz Schlottman said the impact would be to zero out the remaining sentences of some 1,600 inmates, allowing them to be released from the system.

But the amendment to the bill added by the Assembly Select Committee on Corrections, Parole and Probation on Thursday night changed the effective date of the credit provision to July 2008.

Schlottman said that defeats the purpose of the bill.

"It's no longer retroactive," he said. "Nothing would take place as far as changing credits for inmates until after that date. An offender would have to be sentenced after that date."

Inmates receive credits basically for good conduct as well as completing educational and other programs. Currently they can receive up to 10 days credit off their maximum sentences each month.

AB510, passed out of the Assembly Select Committee on Corrections, Parole and Probation on Thursday, would double credits to a maximum of 20 days per month. It also increases the credits inmates earn for completing such things as a GED or associates degree.

The only inmates not eligible for those credits are those serving life without possible parole or those facing execution.

Prison officials estimated AB510 would complete the sentences of 1,600 inmates immediately and reduce prison population projections by more than 3,800 over the next decade. And that, they said, would greatly reduce the amount of money - an estimated $1.9 billion over the next decade - the state will have to spend building new prisons.

But removing the retroactive date means no one would get out early. And that means no savings on construction or operations, according to Schlottman.

That would probably make the law enforcement and prosecutors who opposed the plan happy. Ray Flynn, of the Metropolitan Police Department in Las Vegas, said it would "dump 3,000 felons into our communities."

Washoe District Attorney Dick Gammick said it would "put the people of the state of Nevada at risk."

He said the 1997 Legislature changed sentencing laws for criminals to deliberately give "bad guys" more prison time and that it worked.

"We've got bad guys in prison and they need to be there," he said.

He said obviously that means the prison population was going to increase: "I'm sorry but none of our legislators saw this coming?"

The bill was sent to the Assembly floor where it is expected to be re-referred to the Ways and Means Committee to review its fiscal impact.

• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at or 687-8750.


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