Prison reforms included in proposed budget | NevadaAppeal.com

Prison reforms included in proposed budget

The Assembly Ways and Means Committee approved a Nevada Department of Corrections budget assuming reforms that would reduce the prison population enough to free up more than $28 million.

Subcommittee Chairman David Parks, D-Las Vegas, said expansion of good-time and program credits along with other proposed changes would reduce the projected prison population in Nevada by 650 inmates next fiscal year and 763 inmates the year after. At a cost of more than $20,000 per inmate per year, that would cut total operating costs by some $28 million over the biennium.

If they approve those reforms later this week, that much general fund money could be used elsewhere in the budget – such as expanding education programs.

Lawmakers have been working to find some way of controlling Nevada’s prison population, which has grown far faster than projected over the past few years. Without enacting reforms, lawmakers are looking at up to $1.9 billion in prison construction over the next decade and huge increases in operating costs.

As insurance in case those savings don’t fully materialize, the committee agreed to put $2.8 million in a contingency fund. That money would be available not only to prisons but to Parole and Probation if the reforms increase that agency’s caseload above projected totals.

The legislation to implement those changes will be taken up in Ways and Means later this week.

As part of the package, the committee also approved adding $832,690 over the biennium to keep the substance abuse program formerly known as WINGS alive and operating at Nevada State Prison in Carson City.

Citing a number of problems, prison officials removed the contractor operating that program and completed this year’s class with its own staff. Supporters say the full-time anti-drug-and-alcohol program has an excellent success rate in helping inmates turn their lives around. Former operators claimed a very low recidivism rate for those who graduated WINGS and then were freed from prison.

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