Study: State one of toughest on felons
RENO – Yet another study underscores Nevada’s tough stance on crime, saying it ranks fourth among the states in its percentage of convicted people doing time.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that 49.7 percent of people who plead guilty or are found guilty are behind bars with the other half on parole or probation. Only Virginia, West Virginia and Mississippi have a higher incarceration percentage.
Prosecutors credited the numbers to Nevada laws that are tough on serious crimes.
The president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada termed it politically risky in Nevada to consider probation or parole as an alternative to hard time.
Washoe County District Attorney Richard Gammick said the statistic surprised him.
“In the bulk of the cases people don’t ever see jail or prison unless they’ve done some other prior offense,” Gammick said, since many misdemeanor cases involve court-sponsored treatment and many felony cases have mandatory probation.
“They’ve got to be pretty active at it and ring that bell more than once to be incarcerated,” Gammick said.
The Nevada Legislature made many of Nevada’s laws tougher in the mid-90s, so people convicted of more serious crimes are serving longer sentences, Gammick said.
“Which is exactly the goal,” Gammick said. “That’s what prison is for.”
Anne Langer, chief deputy district attorney, echoed Gammick’s comments about tougher Nevada laws. Someone convicted of first-degree murder using a gun or another deadly weapon now faces a minimum of 40 years in prison, Langer said. Sentences for other crimes also are longer.
“Nevada is really tough on violent crime,” Langer said.
University of Nevada, Reno political science professor Richard Siegel and president of the ACLU of Nevada has worked on jail and prison issues in Nevada since 1968.
“The numbers suggest we make significantly less use of parole and probation than most states while we make more use of jail and prison than most states,” Siegel said.
“I think one of the problems is that we do not finance a strong enough system of parole or probation officers,” Siegel said. “In the past we’d rather spend $75 million for a new prison or $50 million for a new jail.”