Parole Board backlog will grow in June

Nevada's Parole Board reported Monday that nearly 18 percent of Nevada's 13,500 prison inmates will be eligible for parole effective June 30, due largely to new rules approved by the 2007 Legislature.

Those rules allow inmates to become eligible for parole much quicker, said Hearings Officer David Smith.

"One thing that's occurring now is inmates are coming to prison being eligible for parole at intake and there is no time to address their issues," he said.

Smith told the commission studying Nevada's criminal justice system the board intends to make decisions on most of the 652 inmates eligible for Mandatory Parole Release by the first week of June. He said a significant number of those inmates will be released because no parole hearing is necessary if they meet certain requirements. He said a formal hearing is only necessary if there is a likelihood parole will be denied, the victim requests notification or the case is one that requires three commissioners to review, such as a sex or violent offense.

Another 1,744 are eligible for discretionary release and two-thirds of them are serving time for non-violent crimes. Officials say many of them are good candidates for release.

A growing number of inmates are filing court actions saying they are being denied their rights to a hearing and should simply be released by the court. The courts have so far rejected those arguments.

After the easy non-violent and first time offenders are handled, Smith said the board expects to face a large number of cases involving violent and sexual offenders in June and July. He said that will mean far fewer hearings because those cases must be heard by three commissioners instead of just one commissioner and a hearings officer.

The Commission on the Administration of Justice was given some good news from consultant James F. Austin. He said not only has the growth of Nevada's inmate population flattened out, the crime rate is declining both in Las Vegas and in the Reno area. That has resulted in an easing of the overcrowding in Nevada's major jails, which means fewer people headed toward prison.

And he said the probation and parole revocation rates in Nevada are both dropping, which means fewer inmates being returned to prison or jail. He said prison officials, local law enforcement and he are unable to fully explain why, but the trends are good news for the state.

Ray Flynn representing the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police, said officials there believe it's partly because of the additional officers put on the street this past year. He said those officers are enabling Metro to be more proactive, preventing crime instead of just going from call to call trying to keep up with what's happening.

Supreme Court Justice Jim Hardesty, chairman of the commission, said they will focus on finalizing its recommendations to the governor and 2009 Legislature in June and July meetings.

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

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