Leading lawmakers rejecting session to deal with Nevada parole backlog
Leading Nevada lawmakers and key staffers for Gov. Jim Gibbons are rejecting a call for an emergency legislative session to help the state deal with a new law speeding up release eligibility for nearly 1,200 prisoners.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, and Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, say they see no need for a special session, and Phil Galeoto, director of the Department of Public Safety which oversees the state Parole and Probation Division agrees.
Buckley said she and other legislative leaders will meet Tuesday with Gibbons and his top aides to discuss the concerns expressed by Justice Jim Hardesty and Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto during a Wednesday meeting of the Advisory Commission on the Administration of Justice.
Hardesty and Masto said they wanted to talk with Gibbons and legislators about a special session after hearing that the state Parole Board and Division of Parole and Probation can’t deal immediately with prison inmates who will become eligible for early releases when the new law goes into effect Oct. 1.
The law doubles the good-time credits that low-risk, nonviolent inmates are eligible to receive. AB510, passed during the 2007 Legislature, was a move by legislators to reduce overcrowding in the prison system and cut the need for new prison construction.
But the Parole and Probation Division has been unable to craft release plans for about 500 inmates because the Department of Corrections changed its computer system this summer, Hardesty said. A new computer system, which came on line only Tuesday, will be used to determine credits and other factors in determining parole eligibility.
Besides the technical problems, the Parole Board can’t handle the additional workload that the change in the law will cause. The board currently conducts hearings for about 700 inmates a month, but on Oct. 1, more than 625 additional inmates become eligible for parole under the new law.
During the Wednesday meeting, Corrections Director Howard Skolnik and Parole Board Chairwoman Dorla Salling expressed concerns that the two agencies can’t handle the dictates of the new law. The hope was that the Legislature could change the effective date of the new law to Jan. 1, but that would require a special session. The Legislature isn’t scheduled for a regular session until 2009.
“We want to explore options,” said Hardesty, who added that the inmates might have a legal right to parole if the law goes into effect Oct. 1.
Galeoto said he hasn’t received requests for additional funds and expects the Parole and Probation Division to live within its approved budget.
Raggio and Josh Hicks, Gibbons’ lawyer, said money might be available from the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee to increase the staffs of the two agencies.