Ways and Means committee reviews proposed prison reforms
The Assembly Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday got a look at proposed prison reforms they hope will free up more than $28 million by slowing out-of-control growth of the inmate population.
Both Ways and Means and the Senate Finance Committee have already approved a prison budget for the next two years which relies on the projected reductions in those numbers. AB510 will mean the release of 650 inmates next fiscal year and 763 inmates the year after that.
With the total cost per inmate of some $20,600 per year, that would reduce expected operating costs by more than $28 million over the biennium, freeing that much money to be used for other state needs such as education.
AB510 doubles the amount of good-time credits an inmate can receive for good behavior each month from 10 to 20 days and making those added credits – which reduce inmate prison sentences – retroactive to 2001.
But Assemblyman David Parks, D-Las Vegas, whose Select Committee on Corrections, Parole and Probation processed the legislation, said the plan wouldn’t immediately release a huge number of inmates because it would only be applied to the minimum sentences of inmates.
He said unlike the original version of AB510, this amended language would not apply to an inmate’s maximum sentence. That version would have “expired” sentences of more than 1,000 inmates, freeing them. The new language, Parks said, would immediately make those inmates eligible for their first parole hearing. But Parks said each would still have to be reviewed by the Parole Board to ensure those who are still a danger to society don’t get out early.
Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, also assured the audience “there would not be a wholesale release.”
“It would allow the parole board to determine whether they would allow them to be released.”
And Assemblyman John Carpenter, R-Elko, a member of the select committee, pointed out all those inmates released would still be under parole and probation’s supervision.
In response to law enforcement concerns the plan would let a “surge” of newly released inmates into their communities, Parks said that will not happen.
“There will be no surge,” he told the committee.
Supreme Court Justice Jim Hardesty backed up that statement, saying it would create a “staged release for those who have earned the right.”
He said since the proposal doesn’t change the maximum sentences imposed on inmates, he and other judges can support it as well.
Lawmakers are looking for ways to slow the growth of the prison population because their numbers have grown far faster than predicted or budgeted for. The system is overcrowded enough to require a budget increase of nearly 30 percent over the next two years and prison construction of some $1.9 billion over the next decade unless reforms are made.
The committee is expected to act on the legislation later this week.
• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at email@example.com or 687-8750.