Sweeping criminal justice reforms signed into Nevada law
Gov. Steve Sisolak has signed into law the bill making sweeping reforms to Nevada’s criminal justice system experts say will save the state more than $500 million over the coming decade.
Sponsor Steve Yeager, D-Las Vegas, said Assembly Bill 236 will do that by reducing the number of non-violent offenders and parole/probation violators Nevada puts in prison.
He and Supreme Court Justice Jim Hardesty testified the bill was the product of nearly two years’ work with thousands of hours of staff time donated by the Crime and Justice Institute.
“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,” said Hardesty.
In signing the bill, Sisolak said it lowers penalties for non-violent crimes and increases access to diversion and treatment programs, especially in dealing with drug offenses.
“As a result of decades of heavy-handed policies during the so-called War on Drugs, our nation’s prison population ballooned dramatically,” he said.
He said people of color have been disproportionately incarcerated for drug offenses even though drug use rates don’t differ significantly by race or ethnicity.
The law makes significant changes to Nevada’s burglary statutes, recognizing for example breaking into an unoccupied vehicle isn’t nearly as serious as burglarizing an occupied home. It also raises the dollar amount needed to qualify as a felony theft from $650 to $1,200.
The bill doesn’t include violent criminals.
At the same time, Sisolak signed AB267 that, for the first time, provides compensation for people who were wrongfully convicted and deprived of their freedom. One of those is Demarlo Berry who spent more than 20 years in Nevada’s prisons before he was cleared of the murder he was originally convicted of.
“While we can’t give someone back lost time, we must do everything we can to make it right,” Sisolak said.
AB267 would compensate those wrongfully imprisoned up to 10 years with $50,000 a year, up to 20 years $75,000 a year and those like Berry who were imprisoned more than 20 years with $100,000 for each year.