Committee critical of plan to move Parole into Corrections

Members of the joint committee studying the prison system budget made it clear Tuesday they don’t like the plan to move Division of Parole and Probation into the Department of Corrections.Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, said the plan hasn’t been well-explained or fleshed out and that there “seems to be some disconnect” between the current division and prison officials.Greg Cox, director of Corrections, said the idea is to make a more seamless process of moving prisoners back into society. He said that in the past there were parole agents assigned to prisons who worked with prisoners before their release to develop a plan that would help them successfully return to society.“We haven’t had that for years,” Cox said.Instead, he said, the communication with Parole “hasn’t taken place until the prisoner is released.”Cox said putting Parole Division functions within the prison system would extend that connection all the way from prison staffers to pre-release case workers, to re-entry staff to parole officers. That way, a prisoner’s plan provides the services, programs and other things that will make him or her successful on the outside.But later in the presentation, the Senate Finance/ Assembly Ways and Means subcommittee was told parole caseworkers do deal with inmates while they’re in prison.“Pre-release people communicate daily with the Department of Corrections people,” said Bernie Curtis, head of Parole and Probation.Kirkpatrick described herself as skeptical of the plan.“We need to understand what’s going to make it different from what we did in the past,” she said, pointing out that years ago, Parole was moved out of Corrections to Public Safety. Subcommittee Chairman David Bobzien, D-Reno, and Assemblyman Mike Sprinkle, D-Sparks, said they don’t think all the costs of moving Parole from Public Safety to Corrections have been thought through. Bobzien questioned vehicle and travel costs as well as changes in office and leased space.“I’m not seeing where all these expenditures are in the plan we’re seeing,” Sprinkle said.They were joined by the Nevada State Law Enforcement Officers Association, which said a discussion of moving Parole and Probation to Corrections has surfaced “in nearly every Legislature over the past 20 years.”In a letter opposing the idea, the association charged that the move is being pushed by department consultant James F. Austin, who wants Nevada to follow the California model. Moving Parole to Corrections would, according to the association, allow the state to dump probation cases on the counties, as California has.County officials have been very skeptical that they could afford that duty.But unless that is done, association officials say, separating Parole from Probation would just create two agencies instead of one.“It doesn’t sound like the two entities communicated,” Kirkpatrick said.Bobzien told Cox that lawmakers are going to need a much better explanation of how the plan would change things and how that would improve the handling of parolees before agreeing.According to statistics presented at the hearing, Nevada’s parole and probation division has one of the lowest recidivism rates in the nation. The state has 17,689 people on parole or probation. Of that total, those on probation — accused but not convicted — make up 11,426.Despite that, the division has cut its total budget some $10 million to just over $36 million in the past five years.


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