The number of inmates eligible for a parole hearing but still in prison will hit 2,400 by the end of June.
That number includes about 1,000 "that should have had their hearings but haven't yet," said Parole Board Chairman Dorla Salling, speaking Monday to the Commission on the Administration of Justice.
A combination of changes in Nevada law making many more inmates eligible for release, problems with the new Department of Corrections computer system and requirements all inmates be given the chance to testify and have representation at their hearings has slowed the process of holding those hearings, greatly increasing the time needed for each inmate's case.
Consultant James F. Austin, who provides the prison system and parole officials with projections and data on their population, said those problems are helping cause the overpopulation in the prison system, which has 230 more inmates than budgeted, as of last week.
He said if that backlog of parole cases could be heard, it would result in the release of hundreds of inmates, which would put the prison system well within its budget.
David Smith, analyst for the Parole Board, said when the new good time credits took effect last September, the 700 inmates on the parole-eligible list doubled to 1,400.
He and Salling told the commission studying how to reform Nevada's criminal justice system that more become eligible for parole every month and that the June eligibility list will have about 1,800 names on it - even though they can only hold about 700 hearings in a month.
Smith said new regulations designed to release some low level inmates without an official hearing will help but that only about 10 percent will qualify because of the new laws.
"They won't create a mass exodus from prison," he said.
He said under the old law, the board could deny inmates without giving them a chance to speak and be defended at an official hearing.
"The difference now is the board is being prohibited denying parole if you don't hold a hearing," he said.
He said the board's grant rate is higher than in the past because the board is concentrating on hearings for those most likely to win parole and putting off the cases involving violent or sex offenders.
He estimated the grant rate at about 80 percent for the past couple of months.
He said more hearings will be possible soon when newly hired hearing officers come on line after completing their training.
He said those hearing officers include former director of corrections Glen Whorton, former warden Robin Bates and former head of Parole and Probation Amy Wright among others - all knowledgeable and experienced with Nevada's criminal justice system.
• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at email@example.com or 687-8750.