Nevada officials: Prisons running out of beds
Nevada Department of Corrections officials told lawmakers on Monday that the prison system is in crisis because the state is sending more people to prison for longer sentences and releasing fewer on parole.
The state is running out of prison beds, said Director James Dzurenda noting that total inmate population is now more than 13,000 — ahead of consultant projections and about 1,000 more than capacity. In addition, he said those longer sentences are resulting in an aging prison population that is costing more and more because of their medical and mental health issues as they reach their 70s and 80s.
“When we start looking at aging like that, the medical costs are astronomical,” Dzurenda told the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means subcommittee reviewing his budget.
But he told them there are alternatives. He said Connecticut where he came from reformed its probation and parole rules, greatly increasing the number of halfway houses in the communities and reducing the prison population by 5,000 inmates.
He said the goal is to “release offenders that can be better managed in the communities.”
Dzurenda said if Nevada followed Connecticut’s rules, there are more than 1,800 inmates who would qualify for release to community programs — all non-violent, non-sex offenders with no firearms charges. But he said his department currently has no control over those decisions.
He said those community programs are not only the best way to help inmates re-integrate into society and become productive instead of failing and winding up back in prison on new charges. He said they are much less expensive than keeping people in prison who don’t need to be there.
“The most successful programs are in communities,” Dzurenda said.
But he said Nevada doesn’t have those community resources at this point, that Connecticut has 20 times as many halfway houses.
Because of the lack of community programs, he said there are currently nearly 400 inmates sitting in prison who have been paroled but “have no where to go.” Just dumping them onto the street, he said, is a sure way to see them fail and return.
At this point, Dzurenda said Nevada prisons are so overcrowded he is running out of places to put inmates and manage them safely.
As a result, the department is looking at sending some inmates out of state. That would include a lot of the inmates who aren’t from Nevada. Dzurenda said Nevada is unique in that 20 percent of its inmate population are not from here. That includes a large number of gang members he said come up through Mexico through Arizona.
“A lot of them aren’t from here,” he said. “A number are not even from this country.”
So moving them out of state, Dzurenda said, doesn’t further distance them from their communities and families.
Assemblywoman Robin Titus said Nevada needs more focus before inmates are sent to prison.
“We need to be more involved on the front end so these people aren’t being sentenced to prisons,” she said.
Dzurenda said another focus is the 2,600 inmates that are returned to prison for parole violations, not for new felony charges.
“Why can’t we change their plans so they work?”
He said if an inmate is coming close to failing parole-probation, the system should work with them instead of just tossing them back in.
Dzurenda said the state needs to find out from the parole board who is being denied parole and why and information on who is being revoked and sent back to prison and why.
And he said the state needs to work on developing halfway houses and other community programs.