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Democratic Assemblyman William McCurdy speaks during a protest against cash bail outside the Nevada Legislature on Monday, March 18, 2019. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

An effort to ban the death penalty may be dead in the Legislature, but advocates for criminal justice reform are still holding out hope that they’ll see other major changes to the system this year — such as reducing the role of cash bail and decriminalizing minor traffic offenses that can escalate into jail time or even deportation.

Recently, advocates with the Mass Liberation Project — an initiative of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada — visited Carson City to lobby their legislators for an overhaul of the bail system and laws that would reduce the prison population. PLAN Executive Director Laura Martin said in spite of uncertainty about how far the Democratic-controlled Legislature will go on criminal justice reform, she feels a clarity of purpose.

“People kind of see that, okay, the people are paying attention.This is what they want us to deliver, not just because we can, because this is what is just,” Martin said during a recording of the IndyMatters podcast. “It is not right that there are so many people sitting in jail simply because they cannot afford to pay bail.”

The Mass Liberation Project emerged in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, Martin said, as people started looking at the role systems closer to home play in incarceration. More than a president or congressional representative, district attorney races and municipal policies shape the trajectory of a person’s case.

Some of those concerns are addressed in AB325, Democratic Assemblyman Ozzie Fumo’s bill to redo the bail system, and AB236, the Assembly Judiciary Committee’s bill implementing recommendations that are projected to reduce the growth of the prison population. Both bills were given waivers from legislative leadership, meaning they don’t need a committee vote by Friday and remain alive as sponsors work on amendments.

Among those watching closely as the session continues is Jagada Chambers, a fellow with the Mass Liberation Project. He said he was a student athlete who got into a fight during spring break in college in Florida and spent years behind bars. The stigma he felt carried well beyond that.

“I made a grave mistake. It took me over a decade to forgive myself,” he said.

He believes more needs to be done to ensure inmates are treated humanely and have a way to transition back into normal life after their release.

“A lot of the needs are basic humanity,” he said. “A juvenile should never be in extended confinement or solitary confinement. Basic human touch is ... pivotal to a person still holding onto their humanity.”

To hear more on the push to change Nevada’s criminal justice system, listen to the latest episode of the IndyMatters podcast.

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