In June, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak signed Assembly Bill 236, a Justice Reinvestment bill that aims to rebalance the use of criminal justice resources and invest in strategies that reduce recidivism, support law enforcement, and expand access to behavioral health services. The legislation will avert an estimated 63 percent of projected growth in the prison population over the next decade, saving taxpayers $543 million.
Why is this legislation needed?
Nevada’s prisons are beyond capacity and were projected to top 15,000 people by 2028 unless the legislature took significant action. The prison population has increased 7 percent since 2009, even as incarceration rates have fallen nationwide. Factors driving that growth include people being sent to prison for parole and probation violations and an increasing number of people entering prison with mental illnesses or substance addictions. The majority of people entering Nevada prisons are convicted of nonviolent drug or property crimes. Further, a lack of appropriate behavioral health interventions for law enforcement at the front end of the criminal justice process and a significant gap in services for people in the criminal justice system who have substance addictions and/or mental illnesses have led to increases in the number of affected individuals, especially women, admitted to prison.
What does this legislation mean for Nevada residents?
The legislation targets interventions and services to people with behavioral health needs; better aligns sentence lengths with the severity of lower-level, nonviolent offenses; and incorporates best practices into community supervision.
- People with addiction and/or mental health issues who come into contact with the criminal justice system will have more opportunity to access appropriate treatment. Specialty courts will use in-person clinical assessments to identify people in need, and law enforcement officers will receive additional training and resources to help them recognize and respond to individuals with behavioral health needs.
- Costly prison space will be prioritized for people convicted of serious and violent offenses. A new tiered penalty structure for burglary, theft, and drug possession and trafficking offenses will allow the Department of Corrections to focus its limited resources on people convicted of violent offenses, while increasing diversion and treatment options for people convicted of lower-level, nonviolent offenses.
- Parole and probation practices will be improved to help people succeed on community supervision. Parole and probation practices will incorporate best practices that effectively change people’s behavior and will be tailored to individuals’ specific needs.
- Averted prison costs will be reinvested in strategies to increase public safety. New investments from the anticipated averted prison costs will be directed toward law enforcement initiatives, transitional housing, treatment opportunities, and victims’ services.
How was the legislation developed?
Recognizing the significant gaps in behavioral health services, the inability of law enforcement to effectively respond to people with behavioral health problems, and the unsustainable growth in Nevada’s prison population, state leaders sought and received support from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance and The Pew Charitable Trusts to use a Justice Reinvestment approach to address the state’s criminal justice challenges. The Crime and Justice Institute provided intensive technical assistance, supporting the Advisory Commission on the Administration of Justice (ACAJ) with data and system analysis as the commission developed evidence-based policy recommendations, which formed the basis of AB 236.