Parole backlog should be gone by October, spokesman says

A spokesman for the Nevada Parole Board said Monday the backlog of inmates awaiting hearings should be cleared up by October.

David Smith said the backlog contains about 800 inmates who are eligible and overdue for a hearing as of June. More inmates become eligible for hearings every month.

But Smith said changes approved by the June 27 special legislative session will make it possible for the board to hear 1,300 cases in August and that many more in September.

Lawmakers made key changes in the laws controlling parole hearings in June. First, they voted to allow the board to hear cases in panels instead of requiring a full board vote on every inmate.

"We have, statewide, on some days five panels conducting hearings at the same time," he said.

Second, lawmakers agreed to suspend the requirement imposed by the 2007 Legislature prohibiting the board from refusing parole unless the inmate was present at the hearing and given the right to present testimony on his behalf.

"A lot of the backlog was really those inmates because we couldn't deny them (parole) without giving them a hearing," he said.

Smith said that includes violent offenders and high-risk sex offenders who are most likely to be denied parole.

He said the board has focused for the past year on those most likely to get paroled.

"We wanted to concentrate on the better people so the people being delayed were those who simply couldn't be denied without a personal hearing."

And a number of those inmates have filed in court demanding a hearing or immediate release. The Supreme Court has rejected all those petitions.

The 2007 Legislature created the "bubble" of inmates suddenly eligible for release by doubling good time credits and making them retroactive to try to reduce prison overcrowding. Those changes made more than 1,000 inmates eligible for parole hearings within days after the 2007 session adjourned. But the requirement inmates be present at any hearing where their parole was denied and the mandate that the full board vote on all paroles effectively blocked the effort to get more non-violent inmates out of prison.

Smith said now the board will concentrate in August and September on hearings for those inmates overdue for their hearings. After that, he said, the goal is to provide parole hearings two to three months before the inmate is eligible so that, when they are, they get released.

He said with the changes by the 2008 special session, they will actually be able to hold 1,300 hearings each month.

Smith said the temporary suspension of the rules will expire June 30, 2009. By then, he said, the board will be in good shape to provide all inmates the opportunity to attend, be represented by an advocate and introduce testimony at their parole hearings.

Although inmates in most cases won't be present at their hearings for the coming year, Smith said those hearings are still open to the public.

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

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