Lawmakers on Thursday approved a nearly $1 million federal grant Corrections Director James Dzurenda said is designed to change the culture within Nevada’s prison system and greatly reduce recidivism after inmates are released.
He said the $978,102 grant under the Second Chance Act “will provide us the tools so we can change their behavior before they go home.”
Dzurenda said that means beginning programs to change inmate behavior the day they arrive in prison, not at the end of their term. And he said it will require changes in attitude and approach by staff as well as inmates themselves.
He said the federal grant has the option of up to $3 million in federal dollars over three years.
He said he’s convinced the program will reduce recidivism and change the culture of the prison system, its employees and inmates. Dzurenda said it’s important because 88 percent of Nevada’s inmates will eventually return to society and changing their behaviors will greatly reduce the number that return to prison for new offenses.
The largest groups of inmates he said are there because of property crimes and drug and other substance abuse issues.
He said the idea is to find out which programs are working and eliminate those that aren’t and to put inmates into the programs that do work. Dzurenda said that means involving a number of other agencies including the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation, DMV, substance abuse professionals in human services, veterans services and others.
He said the veterans component is important because, per inmate capita, Nevada incarcerates more veterans than any other state. He said there are some 1,800 veterans among Nevada’s 14,000 inmates.
He said, in fact, the department is hiring two new employees to specifically deal with veterans.
Deputy Director David Tristan said the goal with all inmates is to reduce recidivism by 15 percent in just two years.
Dzurenda said New York implemented a similar program and, over 10 years, reduced its prison population by more than 11,000 offenders, closing down seven major facilities. By contrast, he said Florida, with about the same inmate population as New York, went the other way, eliminating the program. That state’s prison population swelled from some 60,000 to more than 112,000 over that same 10 year period.
“I hope and believe in my heart this is going to work,” said Dzurenda.
Lawmakers also approved funding from inmate offender funds to purchase and install video systems in the women’s prison in southern Nevada, Lovelock, Ely and Warm Springs in Carson City to help inmates stay connected to their families and friends.
Dzurenda said for example all the 16 and 17 year old offenders are in Lovelock but all of them are from Las Vegas, making it difficult for families and friends to keep connected to them. He said the video service would go a long way to helping maintain those connections.