By Geoff Dornan, Nevada Appeal, March 3rd 2011
Assembly Judiciary members were told Wednesday a bill allowing more prison inmates to qualify for good time credits against their minimum sentences could reduce the prison population by 300.
Assembly Bill 136 was developed by the Commission on the Administration of Justice as an extension of the changes to good time credits during the 2007 Legislature that made about 2,000 prisoners serving time for lesser and nonviolent felonies eligible for parole.
All inmates except those serving life without the possibility of parole are eligible to collect good time credits to lower their maximum sentences. Those serving time for lesser felonies also can apply good time credits against their minimum sentences, which gets them before the parole board sooner.
But those serving for the more serious Category “A” and “B” felonies can’t apply credits to lower their mandatory minimum sentences. AB136 would change that for Category “B” felons and change it retroactively.
But those convicted of violent or sexual offenses would not be eligible for early release.
Connie Bisbee, chairwoman of the Nevada Board of Parole Commissioners, said the bill’s passage would make 518 inmates eligible for a parole hearing as soon as it took effect.
She emphasized, however, that doesn’t mean they would all get a parole. She projected that about 300 would get out saying prime examples would be those convicted of a nonviolent crime that was really what she termed “a shoplifting burglary.”
She said the bill would create a bubble of eligible inmates that would increase the parole board workload temporarily. It would cost an estimated $13,853 to handle that bubble, she said.
“But you’re talking about 518 and about 300 of them being paroled, you’re talking savings,” she said.
It costs about $20,000 a year to keep an inmate in the Nevada prison system.
Assemblyman Ira Hansen, R-Sparks, questioned who would get out on parole: “I don’t want to be responsible for turning 300 people back onto the streets who should be incarcerated.”
Bisbee told him the board has a very good record with the people it has paroled and is very careful not to “put somebody out who is a high risk.”
Committee Chairman William Horne, D-Las Vegas, said the bill doesn’t release anyone but “just allows them to be eligible.”
Rebecca Gasca of the ACLU said that, over the years, Nevada has seen a “ratcheting up of sentencing, especially things that could amount to shoplifting.” She said the bill excludes sex offenders, those who used force or violence and other such crimes from early release.
Like Bisbee she cited the potential savings by reducing that inmate population.
“The cost savings could be substantial,” she said.
Advisory Council for Prosecuting Attorneys representative Kristen Erickson, and Senior Deputy Attorney General Brett Kandt both testified they were neutral on the bill. But Erickson said the sample cases presented to support the bill averaged five felonies and “not one fit into what is called the shoplifting burglary.” She said they ranged up to habitual criminals and that the bill would allow some one who was in possession of a firearm during that crime to be released.
Kandt questioned whether the bill takes victims of those crimes adequately into consideration.
Horne pointed out there was a victim’s rights advocate on the commission that developed the bill. He said victims are entitled to truth in sentencing and that the proposed legislation weakens that.
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