Pilot program for parole violators would save money

Director of Corrections Howard Skolnik said Monday intermediate sanctions for parole and probation violators would not only help turn lives around but save the state millions in the long run.

Senate Bill 398 by Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, would create a pilot program providing 400 beds for parole and probation violators who are now simply returned to prison for an average of 18-24 months. In addition, it would provide them with drug and alcohol treatment programs since, according to Horsford, that is what got most of those inmates in trouble in the first place.

"In Nevada, it costs us an average of $22,000 a year to incarcerate a prisoner," he told the committee. "As far as those who are incarcerated, 26 percent consist of parole violators returning to custody and many of these are those being brought back for technical violations such as drugs and alcohol."

The bill would, instead, allow judges to send non-violent parolees to the intermediate sanctions program for up to six months.

"This would be a new tool the courts could use," he said.

The plan would make about 150 beds available at the old Nevada State Prison lower yard in Carson City and 250 beds in an add-on unit at what is now theĀ  women's prison in North Las Vegas. Skolnik said that because those beds are already in place, there would be no added expense for building them. The funding, he said, is primarily staffing.

At just under $2 million for this coming biennium and $3.8 million each budget cycles in the future, Horsford said the program could save the state millions each year.

Skolnik said similar programs in other states have shown it can reduce the number of parolees returning to prison by 50 percent.

"It probably doesn't save money this year but the long-term reduction is tremendous," he said.

Skolnik said many of those sentenced to the program would be there just until they straighten out their life again.

If you do it right, some of these stays are two or three days," he said. "Just to slap them."

Maurice Lee, a regional vice president with Westcare, said similar programs in other states have proven very successful in reducing recidivism as well as saving money.

Beyond that, he said, they turn inmates into productive members of the community.

"The return on investment far outweighs the cost," he told the committee. "If the program does what it's supposed to do, you're going to have a whole different mindset."

Lee cited himself as an example, saying 20 years ago he was incarcerated but now serves as a vice president of Westcare.

The $2 million in the bill, however, isn't the whole cost of the program. Health and Human Services Director Mike Willden said that doesn't include the cost of the treatment programs his agency would have to provide to make it work. Willden said those programs would cost about $2.2 million, bringing the total pricetag to more than $4 million.

Skolnik said it will be worth it down the road.

"It's time Nevada takes a look at long-term solutions, not short-term bandages," he said. "This is a long-term solution."

The committee took no action on the bill, which was generated by the interim Commission on the Administration of Justice headed by Chief Justice Jim Hardesty.

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