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Nevada Supreme Court group studies new bail program

A Nevada Supreme Court committee is examining a new bail system that could help reduce jail populations across the the state, cut down on repeat offenders and provide judges with more information about defendants before bail is set.

“This is not about increasing the number of people on the streets who pose a risk to society,” Chief Justice James Hardesty said. “It’s increasing the ability of a judge to understand who poses a risk and who doesn’t. Not everybody who commits a crime is going to be a repeat offender. … We don’t need to build more jails if it isn’t necessary to do so.”

The Committee to Study Evidence-Based Pretrial Release, composed of judges and court officials from across the state, voted unanimously Friday to retroactively study roughly 1,500 cases from across the state.

A U.S. Department of Justice group is expected to analyze between 500 and 750 cases in Clark County, another 500 in Washoe County and 250 cases in rural counties across the state.

Hardesty expects the new program, which analyzes the risk a defendant has of skipping court or committing another crime, could be implemented across the state by July. The “risk assessment tool” runs through a range of questions to determine whether defendants can be released on their own recognizance or on some sort of supervision, such as mobile apps to contact defendants or GPS monitoring systems. The roughly 15-minute review process starts as soon as a suspect is booked in the jail, and information is expected to land on a judge’s desk within 48 hours.

The analysis includes pre-existing criminal cases, age, prior misdemeanor and felony arrests and convictions, prior missed court appearances, employment status, residence, and substance abuse.

There also is a list of possible reasons to override the risk assessment, including gang affiliation, disability or mental health.

Hardesty said that releasing someone before trial is based on two main conditions: whether the defendant will appear at future court hearings and whether the defendant poses a threat to the community.

Some who cannot afford to post bail could lose a job or a home while they sit in jail awaiting their day in court.

“And because of the ongoing financial consequences to them, the societal issues get even worse, and they stay in jail, which clogs the jail facility and overcrowds it, and that’s certainly the situation in Clark County,” Hardesty said. “There is a substantial number of people for whom bail has been determined but they can’t get out.”

That doesn’t mean prosecutors will stop arguing for bail in many cases. Especially in the most serious alleged crimes, such as murders and rapes, with instances in which defendants pose a “grave risk to the public,” prosecutors would seek to override the risk assessment, Assistant Clark County District Attorney Christopher Lalli said.

As of Dec. 31, the population of the Clark County Detention Center was 3,517, according to a report from the Department of Justice Diagnostic Center, which is working with the Nevada committee to help implement the risk management system.

The analysis estimated that 73 percent of the population of the Clark County Detention Center, or 2,575 people, have yet to go to trial. Among them, 1,166 people are ineligible for bail.

James Austin, a corrections research consultant for the Department of Justice, said even a majority of moderate- to high-risk people do not fail to appear for court and are not arrested again before trial.

“You have to appreciate the fact that we’re judging to the exception,” said Clark County’s Chief District Court Judge David Barker, a member of the Supreme Court committee. “It only takes one crash, and somebody dying, when somebody is out, for a judge to have a very bad day.”

Hardesty also said he wanted to create a subcommittee to analyze why standard bail amounts sometimes differ across the state and determine whether there should be a uniform schedule.

“Currently judges who are making these decisions don’t have background information on the defendant that appears in front of them,” Hardesty said. “Our whole state is that way.”

— Contact reporter David Ferrara at dferrara@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-1039. Find him on Twitter: @randompoker.

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