The number of people released from Nevada’s prisons shrank during the COVID-19 pandemic, and interruptions to programming, visitation, recreation, and release planning had a significant negative impact on prison conditions, according to a new report from the Crime and Justice Institute.
In spring of 2021, state leaders asked CJI to assess the pandemic’s impact on the justice system, as well as implementation of AB 236, a 2019 justice system reform bill intended to reduce recidivism and protect public safety. The report, “COVID-19 and Criminal Justice in Nevada: Learning from a Crisis,” found that many provisions of the bill went into effect uninterrupted and that state agencies worked hard to keep the justice system functioning despite enormous obstacles.
However, CJI’s analysis also found that unlike many other states, Nevada did not pursue proactive policies to release people convicted of lower-level offenses through either existing release mechanisms or executive order in response to the pandemic. Meanwhile, interruption of programming due to the pandemic, delays in parole hearings, and other factors contributed to a decrease in releases from prison.
Other findings include Nevada experienced a higher rate of deaths from COVID-19 inside its prisons than neighboring states; there was a sharp increase in mental health concerns among individuals released from incarceration; and the state’s busiest jurisdiction continues to struggle with a backlog of felony cases.
The report offers 12 recommendations intended to:
- Elevate and strengthen positive policies and practices adopted in Nevada during the pandemic;
- Reduce the density of the prison and jail environment to better protect the health of corrections staff and the incarcerated population, both in the present time and in the event of future health crises; and
- Optimize cooperation, coordination, and transparency among the various components of Nevada’s public safety, public health, and justice systems.