No special legislative session for parole problem | NevadaAppeal.com

No special legislative session for parole problem

The governor and legislative leaders emerged Tuesday from a closed-door meeting to say no special session will be needed to fix the law designed to reduce prison overcrowding.

Gov. Jim Gibbons said they agreed the Interim Finance Committee can deal with the “bubble” of up to 650 inmates who will become eligible for a parole hearing Oct. 1 when the new law retroactively doubling their good-time credits takes effect.

And he pointed out that the state doesn’t have to parole anyone.

“The thing (inmates) have to remember too is parole is a privilege,” Gibbons said.

While statute does give inmates a right to parole hearings, Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said existing law doesn’t say how fast they must be given those hearings.

While the law makes them eligible to apply, “they don’t all have to have their hearings in the first week,” she said. “There is not a time period in the right to a hearing.”

Buckley said those hearings could be spread out over the next few months. But she said lawmakers put $6 million into the IFC contingency fund to handle unexpected costs resulting from the prison reform bill designed to relieve overcrowding and some of that money will be appropriated to add staff at Parole and Probation and the Parole Board.

That along with changing the rules so inmates are heard two months before release instead of four months will help “smooth out the bubble.”

The unknown at this point, said Gibbons, is how much money will be needed. He said the agencies and his administration will work with the Legislative Counsel Bureau to put together a budget.

“The point is we get staff on board and start their training,” he said.

Sen. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, said he is confident P&P, the Parole Board and Department of Corrections can handle the added load. He said they just needed a push in the right direction from the governor’s office and Legislature.

The call for a special session was issued last week by the Advisory Commission on the Administration of Justice. Chairman Supreme Court Justice Jim Hardesty, who was at Tuesday’s meeting, said he doesn’t believe the call for a special session was an overreaction. He made it clear that it achieved its goal by getting everyone’s attention.

“I’m happy the governor and legislative leadership are going to resolve the problem,” he said.

Asked whether the problem could have been foreseen, Gibbons said no because much of the crunch was caused by the Department of Corrections’ new computer system, which couldn’t identify the inmates who would become eligible for parole under the new law. That list of inmates was finally made available a week ago.

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