Members of the Assembly Judiciary Committee meeting in Carson City in February. (Nevada Current file photo)
The long-awaited criminal justice overhaul bill was voted out of the Assembly Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote with 10 Democrats in favor and five Republicans opposed.
Assembly Bill 236 takes aim at reducing Nevada’s growing prison population and recidivism rates by lowering penalties for some theft and drug crimes, increasing access to diversion and specialty court programs, re-evaluating the parole process and implementing gender-specific policies to contend with the state’s high number of incarcerated women.
“It’s not perfect, but it’s a damn good piece of legislation,” Democratic Assembly Judiciary Chair Steve Yeager said during an interview last week.
AB 236 comes from policy recommendations from the Crime and Justice Institute, which examined Nevada’s prison population and incarceration rates and presented a compilation of extensive data to the Advisory Commission on the Administration of Justice during the interim session.
The findings showed that not only had Nevada’s prison population increased 7 percent over the last decade — the state’s imprisonment rate is now 15 percent higher than the national average — but is projected to increase an additional 9 percent by 2028 costing an estimated $770 million.
The vast majority of those in prison were for nonviolent offenses. Drug and property crimes, such as theft and burglary, lead the top reasons for incarceration. Among the many changes proposed in the bill are provisions to revise Nevada theft and burglary statutes.
Since the bill was first heard March 8, Yeager has been working to address concerns primarily from district attorneys and law enforcement who opposed most of the policy recommendations.
The original bill, for example, raised the amount that theft is considered a felony rather than a misdemeanor from $650 to $2,000. The amendment brought it down to $1,200.
Yeager said Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, which originally opposed the bill, is now neutral on AB236.
Attorney General Aaron Ford, who prior to becoming AG served on the Advisory Commission on the Administration of Justice, originally supported the policy recommendations, but has since switched his support to neutral.
In a statement to Nevada Current, the Attorney General’s office did not specify why the office changed the position.
While the recommendations from the Crime and Justice Institute would save the state more than $600 million over the next decade, Yeager was unsure what the projected savings would be with the proposed amendments. “We are still crunching the numbers to get an idea of what the savings will be,” he said. “It will be reduced, but not substantially.”
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