Monday, Feb. 23, 2009 | 2:07 a.m.
Jail is not always the appropriate sentence for offenders, especially for those whose backgrounds are clean and whose nonviolent crimes were not that serious.
That is why alternative sentencing programs came into being, but for some reason Nevada lawmakers empowered only counties to create them, leaving out cities.
A bill to change this long-standing oddity seems to have a good chance of passing in the current session of the Nevada Legislature. Senate Bill 84, requested by Henderson, passed with ease in the Senate Judiciary Committee last week.
Those testifying for the bill included representatives of Reno and the Nevada League of Cities and Municipalities. With no one testifying against it, the bill passed 7-0.
Jeremy Twitchell, a reporter for the weekly Henderson Home News, a sister publication of the Las Vegas Sun, wrote a story last week that explained the importance of alternative sentencing programs.
He interviewed Henderson official Terri Barber, who said: “For $40 a day, we can put somebody in house arrest or a monitoring program. When we do that, our recidivism (repeat offender) rates go down and, compared with the cost of $100 a day to incarcerate, it is just a better way of managing the jail’s population.”
That one statement makes so much sense that we wonder why a similar bill wasn’t introduced years ago. An alternative sentence, which can also include community service or a requirement to complete a drug or alcohol treatment program, can perform double duty — help rehabilitate an individual and help local governments save money.
Now that the bill has passed out of a Senate committee, we hope the full Legislature extends its approval. We are confident that cities can create alternative sentencing programs that are just as fair and appropriate as those created by counties. We are also confident that municipal judges are just as competent to negotiate these sentences with prosecutors as are judges in the counties.