Judge says 500 remain in prison despite being paroled

Supreme Court Justice Jim Hardesty told the Board of Prison Commissioners on Thursday that more than 500 inmates still are in prison despite the fact they have been granted parole.

He said the problem with many is there isn't space for them in programs which have been mandated as part of their parole conditions.

"There is a lack of facilities or treatment capability to meet the conditions that were imposed," he said.

Hardesty, who is chairing a study commission reviewing the prison overcrowding and, among other things, sentencing laws, said not all those conditions are necessary in some cases.

"A number of inmates have had conditions imposed on them - for example, in-patient treatment - who may not need in-patient treatment," he said.

Those issues and such things as not having a home to go to prevent the prison system from releasing inmates even though they have been granted parole.

Director of Corrections Howard Skolnik told the board, which consists of the governor, attorney general and secretary of state, there are another 500 plus inmates who are eligible for a parole hearing but, because of the workload imposed on the parole board, haven't had a hearing yet. He said that number will be about 800 by year's end.

Hardesty said that means, "there are over 1,000 inmates in who should be out.

"If we can figure a way to get this bubble out of the prison, the impact to this department's budget and the state's budget would be huge," he said.

That workload was increased significantly by changes in the law during the 2007 Legislature. First, the Legislature doubled the amount of good-time credits an inmate can earn and made that provision retroactive. As a result, a large number of inmates - more than 1,000 - suddenly became eligible for release.

In addition, the law now requires inmates be given notice and allowed to attend their hearings and to bring along someone to represent them there.

Skolnik said the result is the average parole hearing is now 45 minutes - three times as long as it used to be.

But Hardesty said there is a relatively simple way to speed things up: change the law which requires a majority of four out of seven parole commissioners to approve every inmate for release. He said if the commissioners could meet and vote in panels like the Supreme Court does on many cases, they could greatly speed things up.

That, however, would require the Legislature to be in session, which it isn't.

Skolnik said his prison population is now more than 13,400 - some 250 more than his department was budgeted for. He said as an example, Southern Desert Correctional Center, which was built for a maximum of 750 inmates, now holds nearly 1,700.

He said he expects Lovelock's population to require he begin housing some in the gymnasium within a matter of weeks.

He also told the board the prison system's needs are changing. He said he is planning to recommend the proposed Prison 9 be designed as a 1,500 bed women's prison when it is built to accommodate a female population growing much faster than ever projected.

The existing women's prison in North Las Vegas, he said, would then be converted to a geriatrics prison. He said more and more inmates serving lengthy sentences are in their 60s, 70s and older and have more intensive needs, especially medical services.

He said he also wants to convert a portion of High Desert prison in Southern Nevada to maximum security so he can eliminate double bunking of the most violent and dangerous inmates who are housed at Ely State Prison.

He said Nevada State Prison in Carson City will have to shut down the oldest cellblock in the not-too-distant future because it is too old and no longer cost effective to run. That prison, build shortly after Nevada became a state, is one of the nation's oldest still in operation.

At the same time, he said he has empty beds in some of the state's minimum security prison camps because those are the inmates who are most often paroled. But he said he can't put other inmates there because they are minimum security camps.

"I don't want sex offenders and violent offenders there," he said.

The commission is charged with overseeing the operation of the Department of Corrections. It meets at the call of the governor.

• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.


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