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April 23, 2019

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County jail population soars, triggering depopulation order

Clark County Detention Center Tour

Steve Marcus

A corrections officer fills out out a log after visually checking on an inmate in a special housing area during a tour of the Clark County Detention Center Tuesday, July 23, 2013.

The steadily increasing inmate population at Clark County-run detention facilities has triggered a depopulation order that authorities say will help reduce overcrowding.

The average daily inmate population at the Clark County Detention Center and North Valley Complex climbed to 4,455 this month — a 20 percent increase since January, officials told the Clark County Commission on Tuesday. Those two jails have a combined capacity of 3,706 beds for inmates.

“Our focus moving forward needs to be on whether we have the right people occupying jail beds,” County Manager Don Burnette said.

Sheriff Joe Lombardo filed a motion in Clark County District Court earlier this month that called for letting detention staff release certain nonviolent inmates without bail before their cases have been adjudicated. Chief Judge David Barker approved the motion last week, creating a depopulation order.

The move isn’t a new concept. Depopulation orders have been in effect for years in Clark County, but an existing order wasn’t renewed at the end of last year because the inmate population didn’t exceed capacity, said Deputy Chief Richard Suey, who oversees Metro Police’s Detention Services Division.

Absent a depopulation order, the inmate population began surging again, Suey said.

The new order allows staff to reduce overcrowding by releasing inmates who meet certain criteria, starting with people accused of a single misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor offense — not including DUI, battery, battery domestic violence, violation of a temporary protective order, open and gross lewdness or weapons-related charges.

Burnette outlined a number of factors contributing to the rising inmate population as well as possible remedies. Among the causes:

• More than 200 inmates who had been housed in contract beds at the Henderson and Las Vegas city jails returned to county facilities. While their return saves the county millions of dollars annually, it also boosts the CCDC and North Valley Complex inmate populations.

• As violent crime has increased across the Las Vegas Valley, so has the number of felony arrests. Felony bookings increased 18 percent from April to May, he said.

• It’s taking the Division of Parole and Probation more than 50 days, on average, to produce pre-sentence investigation reports, leading to more inmates stuck in detention facilities.

• Many inmates lack the financial means to post bail. More than 430 current inmates remain in jail because they can’t post bail amounts less than $20,000. The out-of-pocket cost for that bail amount generally runs close to $3,000 when working with a bail bondsman, Burnette said.

Chairman Steve Sisolak called the jail overcrowding a “mess” that he said will have a ripple effect in the community when people unnecessarily incarcerated lose their jobs and homes.

“It seems like it’s incarceration based on the ability to pay,” he said.

County officials said they hope to implement by August a pre-trial assessment tool, which would base inmate release decisions off the likelihood of them committing another offense or failing to appear in court rather than their ability to post bail.

Commissioner Lawrence Weekly recommended the county assemble a work group of stakeholders who can meet regularly to discuss and resolve some of the ongoing issues.

“I think that needs to happen, and it needs to happen now,” he said.

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