The Assembly Ways and Means Committee was told Saturday because of the state’s maximum security prison, White Pine County needs help building a new courthouse.
District Judge Steve Dobrescu testified the historic courthouse built in 1908 is a severe security problem when they have inmates on trial with the violent offender just a few feet away from the jury.
He said the Ely State Prison houses Nevada’s “most dangerous and violent offenders” who, he said, don’t stop committing crimes just because they’re in prison. He said a significant part of the court’s workload is generated by those inmates including, since 2000, six murder trials and 11 attempted murder cases.
To ensure they get a fair trial, Dobrescu said those inmates must be in civilian clothing and can’t be shackled. He said he had one juror tell him she was so afraid of the inmate, she couldn’t concentrate on what he was saying.
On top of that, he said there’s a middle school across the street and a library nearby, with children playing on the courthouse grounds.
Assembly Bill 40 would provide White Pine County a total of $10 million over the next three years to pay for roughly a third of a new $25 to $30 million courthouse with proper security. The committee was told White Pine County can raise about $9 million of that and get another third of the total in a USDA loan. But it needs the state to help with the remaining funding.
The committee took no action on the measure.
Also on Saturday, the Senate Finance Committee voted to recommend passage of Senate Bill 402, a bill supported by the American Civil Liberties Union that would sharply limit the practice of putting prison inmates in solitary confinement.
Inmates would get a hearing before being sent to solitary and, if mental illness or a medical condition is the suspected cause of the disciplinary problem, solitary would be prohibited.
Solitary confinement also would be ended under terms of the bill if it compromises the inmate’s physical or mental health.
Senate Finance also voted to support passage of SB306, setting up an education program for inmates who are approaching their release date. The pilot program for those in transitional housing and restitution centers would be created in conjunction with the College of Southern Nevada.
SB306 drew a lot of attention after it was amended to provide inmates participating in the educational programs be allowed access to telecommunication devices such as iPads. Prisons director James Dzurenda told the committee that access is necessary because it’s how the inmates will communicate with their professors and how inmates can apply for jobs. He said, however, the prisons would have total control over any websites the inmates can reach and the same control over who they could email.
“The only way they can apply for jobs is through computers today,” he said.
Officials from CSN added computers and the internet also are how the inmates take classes from the community college, how they access their study materials and how they communicate with their professors.
Finally, Senate Finance voted to recommend passage of SB451 which creates a sentencing commission to review and study the penalties Nevada courts impose on criminal defendants.