Supreme Court Justice Jim Hardesty on Friday called for creation of a greatly expanded system to help inmates make it on the outside after their release and a program to increase collection of outstanding fees and fines to help pay for it.
He said courts in many cases order convicted felons to pay administrative assessments, public defender fees, sexual evaluation, drunken driving, parole supervision fees and restitution.
"But there is no one assigned the responsibility for the collection of fees and fines other than Parole and Probation," he said, adding that Parole and Probation is only responsible for collecting its fee. "I'm of the opinion there's a significant level of uncollected fines and fees in our criminal justice system."
He said there isn't even anyone tracking how much convicted felons owe.
Hardesty said the state needs to create an agency in charge of accounting for and collecting the fees and fines courts impose.
And the money collected, he said, could help fund programs for parolees and probationers and expanding re-entry services to help newly released inmates to adjust to society, get a job, get a home and avoid committing another crime or parole violation that lands them back in prison.
Hardesty said he would also like lawmakers to consider a constitutional change, directing the fees which now go to the Permanent School Fund into the criminal justice system instead.
And he suggested adding on another $20 fee to each conviction to go directly to re-entry programs.
He said the commission's problem for the past year has been that most of what they want to accomplish costs money. Those, he said, are the ideas he has come up with to do that.
Mark Woods of Parole and Probation supported the idea of a collection agency because collecting money from parolees is a low priority for his officers who are mostly concerned with just keeping them out of new legal trouble. He pointed out many of those being supervised have either a low paying job or no job.
Hardesty said one tool for the proposed collection agency would be to double the maximum time a felon can be on probation from five to 10 years with the added time designed as "administrative probation." He said that would help with one current problem: When probation expires, the former inmate is no longer being supervised and has much less incentive to keep making payments.
The commission agreed to look at developing a plan to propose to the 2009 Legislature.
They also voted to forward a laundry list of recommendations by consultant James Austin to a subcommittee, including that P&P be moved out of the Department of Public Safety and into the Department of Corrections. Austin said that would reduce duplication, expand access to critical data and greatly improve the ability of Parole and Probation to properly evaluate inmates appearing before them.
Austin called for significant additions to the Parole and Probation budget saying that money could be taken out of the corrections budget. He said Parole and Probation either needs more staff or a law changing its mission so it is not required to supervise low-risk parolees in order to focus attention on those at a higher risk to re-offend.
Austin said probationers sent to prison for technical violations should not serve more than 12 months. He said the average now is 21 months and that there are about 1,300 of those cases each year.
"If brought down to 12 months, that would free up 1,200-1,300 beds in prison," he said.
Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, urged the commission to put together its recommendations as soon as possible so that the issues raised can be presented to the 2009 Legislature for action. The Assembly this session has created a committee meeting twice a week specifically to focus on prison, parole and probation issues.
- Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.