Staying out of the slammer
November 2, 2005
For some in Lyon County who end up on the wrong side of the law, the harsh confines of the Lyon County Jail is the reality they face.
Unless they qualify for an alternative-sentencing program, which Lyon County officials are still working on and Dayton Justice Bill Rogers has already instituted.
“We’re having pretty good success with it,” he said. “Not 100 percent, but we’re doing pretty good.”
Rogers may impose a fine or jail sentence on a defendant, then suspend it. Then he’ll offer the defendant alternatives, such as counseling, drug or alcohol treatment, victim impact programs and community service.
Rogers said when he went to University of Nevada, Reno’s Judicial College, which he said all new judges in Nevada are required to attend, he learned the positive influence a judge can have on a defendant with alternative sentencing.
“They said the thing that had the biggest impact is if you bring them back in to meet with you on a regular basis and see how they are doing in their programs,” he said.
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Rogers also said defendants with severe alcohol problems may be required to wear an ankle bracelet that detects the presence of alcohol from the person’s sweat. The device downloads the data it collects when the wearer gets close to the base station, letting authorities know when alcohol has been consumed.
Rogers said drug and alcohol abuse was one of the primary reasons someone will end up before him, even if the offense wasn’t drug- or alcohol-related.
“If you have domestic battery cases, you’re going to find in the majority of them the root cause is a drug or alcohol problem,” he said. “Alcohol is a very difficult addiction to break. If we can keep people working and keep people in the home, but intervene enough to stop antisocial conduct, we do it.”
Lyon County’s program was designed by David Bennett, a nationally known consultant in criminal justice issues who has developed programs for 40 states.
That program, which Bennett is currently working with county officials to implement, includes a number of options.
One recommendation is a pretrial program to identify inmates eligible for release and monitor their progress, then tracks and supervises those released.
Another is a misdemeanor probation program that supplies probation officers, imposes curfews, electronic monitoring or other terms.
Bennett also proposed a sheriff’s work program “so we don’t just punish criminals by putting them in jail, we punish them by putting them to work,” he said, adding that those assigned to work may be released early and assigned to other programs.
Finally, a step-down program that allows for early release of approved inmates that requires them to obtain employment skills, monitors them and transitions them back into the community.
“Rather than just open the cell door and let them go, you help them to readjust,” he said. “You get at the root of the problem and work a change in the behavior so there are no further offenses.”
Although neither Bennett nor Rogers had any hard-and-fast statistics, both agreed alternative sentencing would save the county money.
“It’s clear when you have the overwhelming majority of the people being successful, you are saving hundreds and hundreds of bed days in the jail,” Rogers said. “If you’ve saved 30 days a person, it’s enormously cost-effective.”
Though some people with violent histories or tendencies won’t be placed in the program, Rogers said it was successful for those who are motivated and who have family or community support.
“The more support they have, the more likelihood they’re going to have of success,” he said.
n Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at email@example.com or 882-2111, ext. 351.