Incarcerations in Nevada rise, buck national trend
October 10, 2018
A study by the Crime and Justice Institute says even as the nation is putting fewer people in prison, Nevada is putting more behind bars and keeping them there longer.
Nationally, the number of people imprisoned declined 7 percent in 2017 compared with 2008. In Nevada, the prison population grew by 7 percent over that decade.
Alison Silveira of the Crime and Justice Institute said two thirds of new prisoners are in for "non-person" crimes such as drug offenses, property crimes and other non-violent, non-sex offenses.
According to the institute report, Nevada imprisoned 6,011 people in 2017, bringing the total population to more than 13,300.
The most dramatic increase, she said, is in the female inmate population which has expanded by 39 percent over that period and that almost 80 percent of those women were convicted of non-person crimes. She said the majority are in for drug offenses.
In addition, Silveira said those inmates are staying in prison longer. She said time served before release has increased 20 percent in the past decade and those convicted of non-person crimes are being imprisoned 30 percent longer before release.
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She pointed to the average time served for simple drug possession crimes that has grown to 14.4 months.
According to the report, two-thirds of prison admissions were for non-person offenses and nearly half of all admissions for Category B offenses, many of which are non-person offenses. That translates to an average of 10 months longer behind bars than in 2012.
The most common crimes were burglary and attempted burglary. But the report says only two of the 10 most common crimes are considered violent or "person" crimes — robbery and assault with a deadly weapon.
Silveira said the data also indicates 1,751 of the offenders imprisoned in 2017 were identified as having mental health needs. That's a 35 percent increase over 2008.
Maura McNamara of the Institute said a major problem is there's no real mechanism for identifying people with mental health or behavioral issues before they're adjudicated and sentenced.
They told the Commission on the Administration of Justice the amount of time served is growing longer not only because of statutory increases to minimum sentences but because judges are giving longer sentences and the Parole Board has been granting fewer early releases.
Minimum sentences average 12 percent longer and maximum sentences 7 percent longer.
As a result, time served for new prisoners is up 15 percent for property crimes and 28 percent for drug offenses.
The report states between 2008 and 2016, the parole rate fell from 59 percent to just 47 percent before bouncing back to 55 percent in 2017.
As a result, Silveira said fully 40 percent of inmates get out only when their full sentence is served.
Lyon County Sheriff Al McNeil said a lot of those inmates don't want to be paroled because they don't want to be supervised. Justice Jim Hardesty agreed something needs to be done to get more inmates out when they can be put under supervision to reduce recidivism.
Hardesty said he was struck by the "huge disparity" between the Pre-Sentence Investigation report recommendations and what judges actually impose. He said the risk assessment P&P uses dates to 1991 and is seriously out of date.
"We have requested that be updated," he said. "That has yet to occur which is troubling to me."
The commission meets again Nov. 8 to begin finalizing recommendations to the governor and 2019 Legislature.