Assembly Judiciary Chairman Steve Yeager, D-Las Vegas, told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday the sweeping criminal justice reform bill proponents spent more than a year developing will save an estimated $550 million over the coming decade.
AB236 will do that by reducing the number of non-violent offenders and parole/probation violators Nevada puts in prison.
He was joined in testifying by Supreme Court Justice Jim Hardesty who said the bill was developed with the benefit of more than 10,000 hours of staff time by the Crime and Justice Institute. He said that research provided a huge amount of data about who Nevada puts in prison and how long they stay.
“What we learned is shocking,” said Hardesty. “The majority of individuals being sent to prison in Nevada are non-violent and overwhelmingly the result of underlying substance abuse disorders or co-occurring disorders.”
He added despite putting more people in prison for longer sentences, recidivism rates aren’t declining.
Yeager said the bill is designed to better respond to behavioral health needs of inmates, improve access to specialty court treatment programs and allow judges to issue deferred sentences to defendants who participate in specialty court programs.
It makes significant changes to Nevada’s onerous burglary statutes, breaking down penalties by the type of burglary. He said it recognizes breaking into a vehicle is different from burglarizing a commercial building and both of those are less serious than burglarizing a residence.
It also raises the dollar amount for theft to qualify for a felony charge from $650 to $1,200 and makes changes in drug possession and sales charges.
He said in recent years, the largest increase in prison admissions was from Parole and Probation revocations. To deal with that, he said AB236 provides for graduated sanctions for parole violations and that officials try to figure out what the problem is instead of just imprisoning the defendant.
The bill mandates a risk and needs assessment tool to plan for inmates being released from prison starting six months before release and that those inmates be provided with ID documents, clothing and transportation.
He emphasized the bill doesn’t include violent criminals saying its focus is on non-violent inmates and crimes.
The committee took no action on AB236.