Nevada criminal justice system gets review
The Crime and Justice Institute is conducting a comprehensive review of Nevada’s criminal justice system.
Gov. Brian Sandoval said the goal is developing policies to better protect public safety and hold offenders accountable while controlling the growing prison population and costs.
Sandoval along with Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Douglas and Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson joined to request the institute take on the task and develop policy recommendations to be considered by the 2019 Legislature.
The study will include an extensive analysis of data on the prison system, parole and probation. The initiative will also review research on how to reduce recidivism and look at criminal justice policies in other states.
Justice Jim Hardesty said the goal is to produce data that can lead to evidence-based policy changes to improve how criminal justice works in Nevada.
“I think all of us would like to be in a position to make data driven decisions as we talk about reforms,” he said.
In large part because of the truth in sentencing movement, Nevada’s prison population has increased dramatically since the late 1990s because of mandatory minimum sentences, and the reduction of the use of parole.
The prison population increased by 11 percent from 2010 and 2016. That included what Sandoval referred to as a staggering 35 percent increase in female inmates.
The increasing population, he said, has forced a 14 percent increase in the annual corrections budget to $347 million for the 2019 fiscal year.
“Absent changes, Nevada will face the prospect of building new facilities or contracting with other states in order to house the growing population,” he said.
Frierson said ensuring the safety of Nevada families is the first priority for elected officials.
“Sending more people to prison per capita than our surrounding states at a high cost to our taxpayers, particularly with respect to non-violent offenses, does not protect our neighborhoods but, instead, perpetuates the cycle of poverty,” he said.
Maura McNamara of the institute said while Nevada’s population grew by 200 percent, the state’s prison population grew by 900 percent and Nevada’s rate of incarceration is 15 percent higher than the national average. The rate of female incarceration is 43 percent higher than the national average.
She and Colby Dawley of the CJI has shown in general, incarceration and longer prison sentences don’t reduce recidivism.
They told the Advisory Commission on the Administration of Justice (ACAJ) Nevada needs to develop evidence-based practices, provide resources for individuals coming out of prison and incorporate treatment into supervision. Community resources, they said, should be focused on the first days and weeks after release.
They said the state needs to identify high risk individuals who need enhanced supervision and work to change their behavior early in the re-entry process so they don’t commit new crimes.
Justice Douglas said Nevada’s Advisory Committee on the Administration of Justice has been looking at the criminal justice system for more than a decade and is comprised of stakeholders who will review the initiative’s study and make recommendations on how to improve criminal justice in Nevada. The institute has helped a dozen states make policy changes that reduced the prison population and cut costs without increases in crime.