Article: Consultant begins review of parole ratings system

In: Nevada Appeal

By Geoff Dornan

Inmate activists put in their recommendations Tuesday for changes to the risk assessment system that ranks inmates for possible parole.

Consultant James Austin is beginning a review of the system that is designed to give parole board members some factual material to help decide who can safely be paroled in Nevada.

He said the system, designed in 2003 has allowed the state to have one of the nation’s higher parole grant rates but among the lowest rate of inmates who violate conditions or commit a new crime.

Tonya Brown charged that any inmate with a record of filing suits against the state or parole board over his incarceration is automatically denied as a threat to society. She said that happened to her brother.

She also charged that any inmate who refuses to admit guilt is denied parole. She cited her brother Nolan Klein, who spent more than 20 years in prison on a rape conviction he steadfastly maintained he never committed. He died in prison last month of liver failure.

David Smith of the Parole Board said he knows of a number of cases where parole was granted to inmates who never admitted guilt.

He said, however, taking responsibility for the crime is considered in scoring a sex offender, which he said is a completely different process than the ranking system for general inmates Austin is reviewing.

Smith said sex offenders normally have a very good score on the general rating system because they aren’t usually involved in other types of crime.

Brown asked Austin to make sure that when an inmate is put in solitary or lockup for his protection, it isn’t listed somehow as a disciplinary infraction, which could hurt his parole chances.

Flo Jones, who has two sons in the prison system, said the state should consider legislation that follows inmates who are released at the end of their sentence much like those placed on parole. She said those who expire their sentence are released with little or no support, which can land them quickly in situations where they are tempted to commit another crime.

“We don’t want to see these people come out with no parole tag and no supervision,” said fellow activist Michelle Ravell. “It concerns me that people are released with $21 and dropped at a bus station. I just don’t see how they can succeed.”

Austin said all the comments will be taken into consideration as he develops recommendations designed to improve the ranking system.

He said the goal is a better ranking system that improves guidance to the parole board on who should be paroled and who shouldn’t.

“It’s not economics,” he said rejecting the idea that reducing prison costs is the primary goal.

Austin said the risk assessment system considers a variety of factors. They include the inmate’s age at first conviction, prior probation or parole revocations, criminal history, drug and alcohol abuse, gang membership, in-prison education and employment history. It also takes into consideration the inmate’s age since older inmates are less likely to re-offend.

Overall, Austin said Nevada’s system is performing well.

“I’m tweaking it,” he said. “Refining it.”

He expects to complete his report in about three months.