Parole Board should follow open-meeting law, lawmakers told | NevadaAppeal.com

Parole Board should follow open-meeting law, lawmakers told

JOE MULLIN
Associated Press Writer
Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal Assemblyman David Parks, D-Las Vegas, speaks Friday at the Legislature. Earlier Friday, he spoke in support of a measure that would make a number of changes to the state Parole Board.
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Lawmakers are still considering a bill that would make Parole Board hearings subject to Nevada’s open meeting law, after a bill that would exempt the board died in an Assembly committee.

Supporters of AB416 said Friday it would restore “balance in government,” adding that the current board doesn’t have enough oversight or transparency. But a Parole Board representative said the bill could result in inmates getting victims’ personal information.

Advocates of the bill included inmate rights advocates, as well as Assemblymen David Parks Harvey Munford, both Las Vegas Democrats.

The bill also calls for more oversight of the Department of Corrections, and gives judges more flexibility on sentence enhancements for certain crimes.

It’s part of a package of measures to overhaul the state’s criminal justice system over the next few years. Flo Jones, who has advocated for change in the parole system, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the bills under consideration were a necessary correction to overly harsh sentencing laws passed in the 1990s.

“The bills are long overdue,” said Jones. “Truth-in-sentencing came along, people got upset, and now we are stuck in the quagmire, trying to pay for it.”

Under current law, Parole Board meetings are public, but the board can also take testimony from victims confidentially. Under AB416, the board could still close meetings to protect the identity of a victim or other witness.

Under the open meeting law, the board would have to allow inmates to observe all proceedings, said Parole Board spokesman David Smith. The bill also requires the board to provide all the information it considered in making its decision to the prisoner, which could give victims’ personal information to inmates, he said.

“They would feel further victimized by having to let their feelings be known to the inmate,” said Smith. “Some of them have changed their appearances, moved away. They fear retaliation from inmates.”

The bill also creates timelines for notifying inmates about their hearings, and grants all inmates the right to be present at a hearing. Currently, hearings for low-level offenders – about one-third of total hearings – are conducted without the prisoners present, said Smith.

The Supreme Court is considering a case involving the Parole Board compliance with the open meeting law. In a letter to the Legislature, the board asked lawmakers to either exempt it from the open meeting law, or give it the time and money needed to effectively comply.

“We’ve tried to get this resolved one way or another,” said Smith. “If the open meeting law becomes part of the process, the board can’t afford to not comply in every way, or we’ll risk continuous challenges from inmates and victims.”

That compliance will cost the board about $3 million in the coming two-year budget, he added. A bill to exempt the board from the open meeting law was passed by the Senate but died in an Assembly committee.