by Dahn Shaulis
Sunday, February 14, 2010, 10:10 AM
[The RJ failed again to mention common sense legislation that could be used to reduce the State budget. I provided Mr. Benjamin Spillman with the written information below which he failed to use in his article "Residents Give Budget Input". I am doubtful that the RJ or the Sun will publish this]
I am asking that Nevada lawmakers gather the courage to push Senate Bill 398 in the emergency session, to reduce a dysfunctional and wasteful aspect of state government, to treat low-level drug offenders rather than throwing them into gang-infested, drug infested prisons. I am also asking Nevada voters to call or write their legislators about this measure.
According to the SAGE Commission, which approves of this measure, the State would save an estimated $51.2 million in the first year by diverting non-violent probation violators from prison to treatment. The SAGE Commission also estimated a $280 million savings over five years. Substance abuse treatment would be provided by the Department of Health and Human Services. The heads of Corrections and Parole and Probation have already publicly stated that they approve of this measure.
I speak to you not only as a concerned citizen, but also as an educator who has spent considerable time working in and studying the Nevada justice system. As a case manager in high security mental health units at two state prisons, I have seen this waste of resources, where prisons have become “the new asylums” and where high security prisons serve as graduate schools for organized crime.
For 45 years the State of Nevada decided to invest in adult and youth prisons instead of communities, public education, and human services. Crime grew as a result of the growing casino culture, racial segregation and discrimination, and the refusal to treat people for substance abuse and mental health problems. Overall index crime peaked in Nevada in 1980, yet the fear of crime enabled lawmakers to push for more prison funding, amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars in capital expenditures. Currently, some lawmakers want to build prisons even as other facilities lie vacant.
Prisons in Nevada do little to habilitate prisoners, providing them with few opportunities to get the skills and resources they need to make it on the outside. It is appalling to see that Casa Grande, which is supposed to provide opportunities for short-timers, always has dozens of empty beds, while waves of low-level probation violators flood the high security High Desert State prison. Let’s have the courage to start the savings now. The time is now to downsize this costly part of government—and to replace it with community reinvestment and public education.