Committee recommends sentencing, parole changes
The legislative committee studying Nevada’s criminal sentencing and parole rules wants to ease the tough “deadly weapon” enhancement imposed on violent criminals and put more inmates – particularly the nonviolent – on parole earlier.
But they drew the line at a suggestion by Assemblyman William Horne, D-Las Vegas, that would have moved parole toward being right instead of a privilege.
Lawmakers balked at getting rid of Nevada’s deadly weapon enhancement in violent crimes – which now provides a mandatory doubling of whatever sentence the defendant gets for the original crime whether it is murder, robbery or another felony.
Horne and supporters including the ACLU argued that even such things as a shoelace around a victim’s neck have been ruled a deadly weapon under current law. And they protested that the system gives judges no flexibility to consider the actual circumstances of a crime.
The committee voted instead to support giving judges a range of one to 10 years as an enhancement sentence for use of a deadly weapon in any felony.
The panel agreed to request legislation that would put many inmates on parole about a year before completing their maximum sentence. Horne said that would provide them supervision while they get accustomed to society again and hopefully reduce recidivism.
“Instead of housing them in prison, it’s cheaper for them to be on parole and keep the prison bed for more serious prisoners,” he said. “And they would have the year remaining of their sentence where they would be under supervision of parole and probation rather than releasing them cold out into society without that supervision.”
His fellow lawmakers also backed the idea of releasing nonviolent felons to parole after they serve their minimum sentence.
But Horne could not get a majority for the proposal to create an “objective risk assessment” to use in determining whether or not to grant parole – then allow inmates for the to go to district court if the parole board overrides that assessment and refuses parole.
That would have, for the first time, given inmates at least some right to a parole since, under current rules, they can’t appeal a parole denial.
Members including Sen. Dennis Nolan, R-Las Vegas, and John Carpenter, R-Elko, objected saying that goes too far.
Horne asked why they would create an objective assessment but then let the parole board ignore it.
“People on the parole board need to have pretty wide latitude in the reasons they use,” said Carpenter. “I don’t think we should allow them to go back to district court because that would cause a lot of problems.”
The final vote was tied, which means the proposal failed. But the majority did agree to call for creation of an objective risk assessment tool for the parole board to use.
The proposals will be drafted for consideration by the 2007 Legislature.
• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at email@example.com or 687-8750.