The Crime and Justice Institute presented a report on Wednesday that says Nevada’s imprisonment rate is 15 percent higher than the national average and growing.
Institute analyst Alison Silveira told the Commission on the Administration of Justice that Nevada incarcerates 468 people per 100,000 residents compared with the national average of 406 in other states.
Nevada currently has 13,757 prison inmates.
She said prison admissions have increased 6 percent in the past decade. And, although women make up less than 10 percent of the inmate population, she said the female prison population has increased 39 percent in the past 10 years.
She said slightly more than half of them have been identified as having mental health issues.
In addition, more than half of the female inmates have no prior felony record and nearly 80 percent are for non-person, non-violent offenses.
Per capita, she said that means Nevada has a female prison population 43 percent higher than the national average.
But Chuck Callaway, representing the Metropolitan Police on the commission, said he wants to have the institute review that data to see what Nevada’s rate would be if all the out-of-state criminals are taken into consideration. He argued Nevada sees more than 43 million tourists a year and a substantial percentage of inmates are from other jurisdictions. He also pointed out the state’s population is more than triple what it was in 1978, the first year listed in the institute study.
Commission Chairman Assemblyman Steve Yeager, D-Las Vegas, agreed saying without considering Nevada’s huge tourist numbers and growth, “it’s easy to say Nevada is over-incarcerating people.”
According to the institute’s 100-page report, the growth is primarily in the south and, specifically, Clark County. The data shows the numbers of newly sentenced inmates actually declined over the past decade in eight Northern Nevada counties. There were double digit decreases in Storey, Eureka, Douglas, Pershing and Elko counties.
Churchill saw an 8 percent decrease, Washoe 5 percent and Humboldt 4 percent fewer prisoner incarcerations.
Carson City saw an increase of 10 percent and Lyon a 25 percent increase.
While Clark was up just 2 percent, that county has more than 70 percent of Nevada’s population.
Two thirds of prison inmates are in for non-person crimes, primarily non-violent property and drug offenses. Throughout the report Silveira and Maura McDonald of the institute said the most common property crime is burglary.
Yeager said the group needs to take a close look at Nevada’s burglary statutes.
“Nevada has the most expansive definition of burglary maybe in the country,” he said.
He said there’s a dramatic difference between a residential burglary and someone who enters a casino to pass a bad check, which can also be treated legally as a burglary. He said they need to look at what kind of burglaries are being prosecuted.
McNamara told the commission a total of 1,118 people were referred to specialty courts in 2017, the majority to drug court and the vast majority of those for methamphetamine use. She said more than half of those people graduated from the programs and were given a break on their criminal charges for that success.
Nevada operates a total of 74 specialty courts including drug and alcohol court, mental health court and felony DUI court as well as veterans courts.
The report was the first of three the institute will present to the committee as it moves toward making statutory recommendations to the governor and the 2019 Legislature. The next report will be presented Oct. 10 and the final on Nov. 8.