CARSON CITY — Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval is pursuing creative solutions to a potential prison overcrowding challenge that could see capacity exceeded by 700 inmates by the end of the next budget without prompt action.
“Our goal is to not construct a new prison,” Mike Willden, chief of staff to Sandoval, said in a budget briefing last week.
Prison construction is not cheap, and it has to be paid with state general funds. In 2007, the Legislature approved $300 million for prison construction projects.
Sandoval’s solution rests primarily with the Division of Parole and Probation and the Parole Commission, which will be given new resources to speed up parole for as many as 300 to 400 eligible inmates.
“We are counting on parole to do that,” Willden said.
Accountability measures will be established to ensure the goal can be met, he said.
Sandoval’s budget expects to see the state’s inmate population increase by 902 over the next two years, serving an average inmate population of 14,006 in fiscal year 2018 and 14,247 in fiscal 2019. This year the average population is 13,345.
The pace of paroles in Nevada are a concern for Sandoval, who questioned the reasons for delays at a November meeting of the Nevada Board of Prison Commissioners.
Minutes of that meeting indicate that Nevada has the fewest parole releases to the community per-inmate population in the country.
Sandoval expressed frustration at the pace of releases and said he wanted to make sure there were no artificial boundaries to release. The budget provides his solutions to the concern.
Parole-related proposals in Sandoval’s budget include:$2.7 million in general funds to implement a Day Reporting Center to focus on intervention and reduce recidivism for parolees. Six staff are part of the proposal.
Adding 12 new staff to the Parole and Probation Division to improve supervision of parolees.
Adding six case worker positions at prison facilities to improve and expedite the release process of inmates eligible for parole at a cost of about $850,000. Another $700,000 would be available if more staffing is needed.
$1.1 million to create a state-funded house arrest program.
Eight new staff to help supervise a projected 450 additional parolees.
Approximately $230,000 to increase the Transitional Housing Fund to support release plays of qualifying inmates.
At the Prison Board meeting, it was reported that one-third of paroled inmates being returned to prison were there for parole violations only.
Crowding is a problem within the prison system.
Corrections Director James Dzurenda said at the meeting that 13,742 inmates were housed in the system — well over capacity if only regular housing beds were used.
But the department has converted large areas of prisons, created for other purposes, into dormitory-style beds.
In addition to seeking to expedite paroles, the Department of Corrections has a capital construction project worth about $6 million to add 200 beds at the Southern Desert Correctional Center.
A third element of the plan, if needed, sets aside about $12 million to temporarily house some Nevada inmates out-of-state while the parole efforts get up to speed, Willden said.
State lawmakers will get a first look at the corrections and parole budget proposals at a hearing Jan. 31, a week ahead of the start of the 2017 session on Feb. 6.
Sandoval said in his budget that his goal is to reduce prison inmate recidivism by 10 percent through education programs and intervention services and resources, particularly in the areas of behavioral health, drug addiction and workforce training.