Justice panels: Reclassify certain crimes to unclog prisons | NevadaAppeal.com

Justice panels: Reclassify certain crimes to unclog prisons

The Assembly Corrections and Senate Judiciary committees received a laundry list of recommended changes to Nevada’s criminal justice system Thursday, including reclassifying some crimes so that inmates convicted of them are eligible for earlier release.

Supreme Court Chief Justice James Hardesty, who chaired the Commission on the Administration of Justice, said those Category B felonies “have become a dumping ground” and clog prisons because those convicted can’t get good time credits and the opportunity for early release.

“Even the district attorneys agree some of the crimes in Category B could be lowered to a C or even a D,” Hardesty said.

In Nevada, the most serious felonies such as murder are in Category A. Category B covers a wide range of lesser but still serious felonies such as drug trafficking. Director of Corrections Howard Skolnik has testified in the past many of those convicted of trafficking shouldn’t be in that category because they were “mules,” not major drug dealers. Other crimes in that category include burglary, theft and sex crimes.

Hardesty drew an objection to changing the classifications from Sen. Maurice Washington, R-Sparks, who helped draft the Truth in Sentencing legislation that created those categories in 1995.

But Hardesty said the classifications need to be reviewed for “proportionality of the numerous forms of punishment,” after 14 years.

Hardesty said Nevada spends up to $8 million to incarcerate Category E felons, who are by law not supposed to be sent to prison. The reason, he said, is because they violate their probation, often by returning to the drug use that got them in legal trouble in the first place, and judges don’t have treatment and other alternative programs to send them to.

He said the state’s judges are concerned about the lack of intermediate sanctions for parolees and probationers and that putting money into creating alternatives would reduce the number of felons sent back to prison for violations.

The commission also recommends a substantial increase in the state’s specialty courts for drug offenders and others. Hardesty said 13 percent of Nevada inmates are in prison for drug offenses.

Since the Truth in Sentencing legislation passed in 1995, Hardesty said, the length of time offenders serve has increased by 18 percent because that legislation increased the minimum sentence for lower level offenders.

“That contributed to added days which increases prison costs,” he said.

The commission met for 18 months since the 2007 Legislature developing dozens of recommendations which have resulted in 18 different bill drafts which will be considered during this session.

– Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.