Las Vegas Sun

September 18, 2019

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Public Safety director taking jail crowding into his own hands

Jim Wright says he won’t wait for federal money to help clear backlog of presentencing reports

The director of the Nevada Public Safety Department says he has taken "immediate steps" to answer complaints that the state is violating the law, which has led to overcrowding at the Clark County Detention Center.

Director Jim Wright said he isn't waiting for more money from a state emergency fund to hire more parole and probation officers to speed up the writing of the presentencing reports for persons convicted of felonies. The reports include the background of the defendant, his or her gang affiliation, history of drug use, the impact to the victim, and a recommended a sentence — which district judges are not bound to follow.

Wright said he is using his executive authority to transfer savings in the agency's budget to hire former officers and to shift officers with light duty to prepare these reports, which, under a new deadline, must be given to judges seven days prior to a sentencing hearing.

The 2013 Legislature approved a law that requires the state Parole and Probation Office to submit presentencing reports to the judge and attorneys within 45 days of a conviction and seven days prior to the sentencing hearing. The intent of the law was to speed up completion of the reports and allow more time for review if there were any mistakes.

Clark County Public Defender Phil Kohn had complained at an Oct. 22 meeting of the Nevada Advisory Committee on the Administration of Justice that the state was violating the law by not giving the presentencing reports to judges, defense lawyers and prosecutors seven days before sentencing; they were arriving two to three days before sentencing.

The Legislature approved the deadline bill but deleted $900,000 requested by the Parole and Probation Office for new hires. The advisory committee recommended last month that the legislative Interim Finance Committee dip into its emergency funds to pay for the additional officers.

Wright said he will not ask the finance committee for more money at its Dec. 9 meeting but will outline the measures he has taken to alleviate the problem. But this is only an interim solution, he said, and he will need more money down the line.

But the Nevada State Law Enforcement Officers Association issued a news release today saying the new law is costing taxpayers millions of dollars. In the release, association President Ron Cuzze said the Parole and Probation Office has requested continuance of more than 300 cases in Clark County because it was unable to meet the new deadlines.

An Oct. 31 census of the Clark County Detention Center showed there was a 79-day time delay between a guilty judgment and sentencing, which is costing the jail extra money because it is housing inmates for longer periods.

Clark County Detention Center officials estimate $17 million a year is spent to house inmates who already should have been sentenced.

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