CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - A backlog of convicts in Nevada prisons
eligible for state Parole Board hearings could climb to 1,300 in April despite efforts to conduct as many hearings as possible, the panel's chairwoman said Thursday.
Dorla Salling said board members regularly work into the evenings on weekdays and may start meeting on weekends to reduce the backlog, but are up against 2007 legislative changes speeding up release eligibility while adding to the time needed to conduct parole hearings.
"It's just frustrating," Salling said. "I just don't want people to not think we're trying because we are. We're doing as many hearings as we possibly can, but we have to protect public safety."
The state, facing a growing revenue shortfall, could save about $1.5 million a month in housing and food costs at medium-security prisons if the backlog of 1,300 hearing-eligible convicts was erased and those inmates were released, according to figures provided by the Department of Corrections.
But getting rid of the backlog entirely isn't likely in the near future. The board conducts hundreds of hearings every month, but the backlog keeps growing because the hearings don't keep up with the number of inmates becoming newly eligible for hearings.
As part of the speed-up effort, the seven-member Parole Board also got more than $500,000 in emergency funds from lawmakers in November to allow for more staffing - but Salling said no new staffers have been hired yet. She hopes to have those employees in place by June.
"We're working frantically to get them hired," Salling said. "But it has to go through the state Personnel Department. It's a very lengthy process."
Salling also said the growing backlog has led to complaints from inmates and family members when the convicts can't get a parole hearing even though they're eligible. In some cases, inmates simply
complete all their time behind bars without ever getting a parole hearing.
The board is trying to push through as many parole requests as possible by hearing the requests of inmates typically serving time for crimes that aren't violent or sex-related, Salling said, adding that by June enough of the easier cases should be done so that hearings on tougher cases can start.
The laws approved in 2007 that have complicated Parole Board operations include SB471 which requires that inmates get reasonable
notice of their hearings, and allows inmates to be present. Inmates also can have legal representation at the hearings.
Until that change occurred, the board hadn't visited prisons to hear inmates' applications for parole, and instead made its decisions based on the prisoners' record.
The parole process also was affected by AB510, speeding up release eligibility for up to 1,400 inmates. AB510 doubles the good-time credits that low-risk, nonviolent inmates are eligible to receive in efforts to reduce overcrowding in prisons and cut the need for new prison construction.
"I said it would be a train wreck," Salling said. "We told the Legislature what would happen and they passed these new laws on the last day of the session."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)