Inmate release plan prompts dire warnings

CARSON CITY — The head of the state prison system predicted Wednesday that chaos and crime would result if a bill is approved mandating him to release 1,600 prisoners on July 1.

“Some won’t have any place to go,” Corrections Director Howard Skolnik told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“I guess we can hope for the best, but that is not a real good corrections policy.”

Sen. Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, added that more than two-thirds of the prisoners would be returning to Clark County, saying he was concerned about public safety.

“If we are not going to house them, this is a recipe for disaster,” he said.

Skolnik expressed concerns about the effects of Assembly Bill 510, a proposal to increase the good-time credits inmates have earned.

He contended that if the bill goes into effect July 1, service organizations that assist released inmates would be overwhelmed.

The inmates released, he added, would have expired their sentences and not be subject to parole supervision.

“These people probably will have a propensity to reoffend,” said Sen. Maurice Washington, R-Sparks.

“They will be picked up again and housed in somebody’s jail.”

Washington said inmate releases should be phased in so that a huge number of released inmates are not “dumped on the community.”

Skolnik said that 300 inmates now are “sleeping on cots” because of overcrowding in Clark County jails and that the problem would be exacerbated by the release of so many prison inmates.

“This is not just a Nevada issue,” he added.

“Oklahoma is seriously considering refusing to take inmates into its prison system. This is the result of the truth-in-sentencing laws passed nationally in 1995 that finally came home to roost.”

Nevada also passed a truth-in-sentencing law, specifying minimum sentences that must be served, in 1995.

After the meeting, Gov. Jim Gibbons said he would not sign any bill that released potentially violent inmates to the streets without supervision.

“I oppose any legislation that would result in the early release of violent criminals,” Gibbons said.

And Assemblyman David Parks, who chaired the committee that drew up AB510, said it never was the intention to send potentially violent criminals to the streets.

“This Legislature certainly has no intention of releasing inmates unsupervised,” said Parks, chairman of the Assembly Select Committee on Corrections, Parole & Probation.

He said some felons convicted of relatively minor crimes might be released unsupervised, but only after their histories were reviewed by parole and probation officers.

“There is a lot of concern on everybody’s part,” he added. “Hopefully we will have enough safety values in place so we don’t find ourselves in a real bind.”

Senate Judiciary Chairman Mark Amodei, R-Carson City, noted during the hearing that his committee has a role in prison policy and “ought to say something” if prison budgets are approved with the good-time credit bill in effect.

Skolnik spent much of the hearing telling members how the inmate population has grown beyond all projections. In April, 13,412 inmates were housed in Nevada prisons, compared with 12,138 a year earlier.

The prison system projects that the inmate population will exceed 21,000 in 10 years.

To provide housing for additional inmates, Gibbons has proposed a $300 million prison construction budget for the next two years. Prison officials have estimated that $1.9 billion will have to be spent on prison construction to meet their needs over the next decade.

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