Rule would free low-risk inmates early

(AP) - Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley says hundreds of low-risk Nevada inmates soon could be released from crowded prisons if legislators approve a regulation change next week.

Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said the Legislative Commission, meeting Wednesday, will look at a regulation that would free inmates from having to attend Parole Board hearings in person when there's no dispute that they should be released.

Buckley said the regulation would help deal with a law passed by the 2007 Legislature that was designed to allow early release of more than 1,000 inmates. The law increased the good time credits earned by inmates serving sentences for crimes not deemed serious.

Parole Board members have complained they lacked the staff to keep up with the hearing demand, in part because of another new law that required inmates to appear in person for parole hearings.

During a Wednesday meeting of the Legislature's Interim Finance Commission, Parole Board Executive Secretary David Smith admitted his agency still has not hired additional hearing officers and examiners. Legislators in November approved more than $500,000 to hire those employees.

"It has been five months," said Buckley. "We are in a (financial) crisis and we have folks ready to leave (prison), but they can't."

"Things do not move fast in state government," Smith replied. The board hopes to have the employees inplace by June.

Dorla Salling, the Parole Board chairwoman, said recently that the backlog of convicts eligible for hearings could climb to 1,300 this month. The state could save about $1.5 million a month in housing and food costs at medium-security prisons if the backlog was erased and those inmates were released, according to figures provided by the Department of Corrections.

Salling also said the growing backlog has led to complaints from inmates and family members when the convicts can't get a parole hearing even though they're eligible. In some cases, inmates simply complete all their time behind bars without ever getting a parole hearing.

The board is trying to push through as many parole requests as possible by hearing the requests of inmates typically serving time for crimes that aren't violent or sex-related, Salling said, adding that by June enough of the easier cases should be done so that hearings on tougher cases can start.


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