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August 23, 2017

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Assemblywoman wants to ban private prisons in Nevada

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Steve Marcus

Southern Desert Correctional Center in Indian Springs is an example of a crowded Nevada prison. A proposal calls for inmates to be moved out of state while the prison is renovated.

Updated Tuesday, April 4, 2017 | 1:04 p.m.

There was no opposition to a proposed ban on private prisons in Nevada when the bill came before a committee of lawmakers this morning.

Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno, D-North Las Vegas, is amending the bill to bring down the anticipated price tag of almost $85 million and to give the prison system time to transition. A retired corrections officer, Monroe-Moreno said Monday that she’s seen the need for improved services and criminal justice reforms.

“The use of for-profit prisons can be a temporary fix if necessary, but it is not the ultimate fix for the overcrowding issues and other problems that we have in our criminal justice system,” she said.

Monroe-Moreno said for-profit prisons are a big business. “It kind of incentivizes having people be incarcerated more often, having longer sentences,” she said.

The Nevada Department of Corrections estimated the cost of the original version of Assembly Bill 303 and said it would be unable to meet the proposed requirements with current resources.

The $85 million estimate attached to the original bill took several issues into account, such as new construction and the potential lease of an alternate facility in North Las Vegas. Monroe-Moreno said the amended version largely eliminates that estimated cost.

Nevada’s one for-profit facility is a federal prison in Pahrump that Monroe-Moreno said the Legislature cannot control. The bill requires that state and local prisons, jails and detention facilities fall under the direct operational control of the state or a local government.

Members of the Assembly’s Corrections, Parole and Probation Committee heard support for the bill from corrections officials and public defenders, among others.

Department of Corrections Director James Dzurenda said there were almost 600 inmates sleeping in unconventional housing, such as day rooms and program rooms.

Gov. Brian Sandoval’s recommended budget requests that 200 inmates be housed out of state due to crowding and needed repairs in an uninhabitable part of Southern Desert Correctional Center. The Corrections Department’s fiscal note says the original bill would have prevented that.

Monroe-Moreno said the amended bill would temporarily house those inmates out of state while repairs are made.

“We’ve come to a happy medium between what they need and what I’d like to see,” she said.

Two buildings need to be repaired. Monroe-Moreno said she’s been told the work would take two years for each, and the inmates would be moved back in state as soon as the facilities are ready.

“Once we’re able to get them back in, we’ll have refurbished facilities but we’ll also have more programming to help with the behavioral health care issues and education issues once they come back,” she said.

Less employee training and higher turnover are some of the issues seen in some for-profit prisons, said Nicole Porter, of the Washington, D.C.-based Sentencing Project, a nonprofit advocacy group.

“With AB 303, Nevada lawmakers have an opportunity to codify the practice of incarcerating no state prisoners in private prison,” Porter said.

Assemblyman Keith Pickard said people hear about the same kinds of problem outcomes in the public prison system as well. Porter said overpopulation issues can contribute to issues within prisons while also contributing to the need for for-profit facilities.

Keeping in mind the prisoners being transferred out of state, Pickard asked for an analysis of institutions that are run well.

“We’re talking about a mixed bag of results,” he said. “I’m wondering if then there are best practices.”

If passed, the provisions in the bill would take effect in July. A sunset clause would give prisons five years to transition.

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