Director of Corrections Howard Skolnik said Monday intermediate sanctions for parole and probation violators would help turn lives around and save the state millions.
Senate Bill 398 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.
The program would provide drug and alcohol treatment since, according to Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, that is what got most of those inmates in trouble in the first place.
"It costs us an average of $22,000 a year to incarcerate a prisoner," he said. "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 the 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 for 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 they can cut in half the number of parolees returning to prison.
"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 up.
"If you do it right, some of these stays are two or three days," he said. "Just to slap them."
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 cost 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.