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Chief Natalie Wood with Nevada Department of Public Safety James Wright during the grand opening of the Day Reporting Center in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Officials with the Nevada Division of Parole and Probation say they have been frustrated by their limited options when a person they are supervising slips up.

Officers have brief monthly check-ins with parolees, and often they’d turn up technical violations such as a positive drug test — occasions where the parolee is self-sabotaging but not really harming anyone else.

“Your first answer was more like, ‘Throw them in jail,’” said Sgt. Christopher Clifton.

But now, they’ll have another tool to use — the Day Reporting Center, which held a grand opening last week at a remodeled downtown Las Vegas office building. The public-private partnership is an “intermediate sanction” to which parolees can be assigned instead of the typical solution — being sent to jail for three weeks at a cost of $140 a day before being cleared to go back on parole.

Guests and dignitaries visit the computer room for clients at the grand opening of the Day Reporting Center in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Participants are assigned a new parole officer with a lower caseload who tries to assess the root causes of why they are breaking the rules. The center offers 90-minute classes on everything from job seeking to impulse control, and community resource providers who can connect parolees with public assistance, bus passes or housing are expected to set up shop right on site.

Participants usually stop by every two weeks. Open-sided office spaces for parole officers form a ring around a bank of computers and a printer, which parolees can use to complete GED classes or fill out job applications.

That’s a more hands-on and personal approach than the current arrangement, under which Las Vegas-area parolees report to a fortified office on Bonanza Road once a month that features metal detectors and bulletproof glass. Sometimes, they wait two or three hours to see their parole officer for a five-minute appointment, missing work in the process, and are directed to libraries or elsewhere to access computers to help them meeting their parole requirements.

The new center offers more face time.

Melissa Starr, vice president of Field Operations at Sentinel Offender Services, gives tours to law enforcement and guests during the grand opening of the Day Reporting Center in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

“This is not just send your monthly report in anymore … Not, ‘did you test positive for drugs and alcohol, and did you pay your supervision fees?’” said Melissa Starr, vice president of field operations at Sentinel Offender Services, the company that’s partnering with the state to operate the center. “The days of that are over. This is more, ‘how’s your mom? You know, how are your kids? Did your kids get fed this morning?’”

Legislation authorizing and funding the Day Reporting Center passed in the 2017 session. The state has budgeted $1.3 million over two years to run the center. 

All parolees pay $30 a month to the division while they’re under supervision, although the amount can vary if they’re using GPS monitoring or house arrest; use of the Day Reporting Center does not cost parolees additional money.  It’s part of a range of criminal justice reform efforts that supporters say will make the state not merely “tough on crime,” but “smart on crime.”

“This really is kind of the poster child of what we were trying to attempt this session, which is let’s get the criminal justice system right,” said Democratic Assemblyman Steve Yeager, a former public defender who chaired the Assembly Judiciary Committee. “Take the violent, risky people, incarcerate them, take those that we can rehabilitate and let’s do our best to make that happen — one, because it costs less, and two, because it actually reduces recidivism.”

Assemblyman Steve Yeager, D-Las Vegas during the grand opening at the Day Reporting Center in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

It’s also one of several ways the state is trying to ease pressure on its prison system, which is so overcrowded that 200 inmates are being sent to Arizona for housing this fall in a private prison.  

“We were tasked with this. The directive from the administration was you need to do something different because we’re not going to build another prison,” said Jim Wright, director of the Department of Public Safety, which includes the parole division. “They said be creative, look at what other programs you can do.”

Nevada has contracted with Sentinel since 2002 to maintain its GPS monitoring systems for people on parole. Although offenders in the past have had to pay for that service on a sliding scale based on their income, the Legislature approved funds so the state can pay monitoring costs for about 450 parolees who can’t afford the house arrest option and would otherwise be stuck in prison simply because they can’t pay fees.

“It’s not fair and it’s not the right thing to do,” said Natalie Wood, director of the parole division. “The governor was gracious enough to fund some slots for state-funded house arrest. It’s another tool under our belt if you can’t afford house arrest.”

Although the Day Reporting Center and the house arrest slots are just now coming online, parole officers say they’re already appreciating another change the division is implementing — a mandatory, hourlong risk assessment interview aimed at matching participants with the right services to help them be successful on parole.

Their previous intake practice was an essentially two-minute process — asking the offender about the last time they were arrested. Now, their officer gets more time to understand what’s hanging them up and what could help them break the cycle.

“There has been a pretty good change in the offenders — a lot more positive interaction where previously they would just encounter us and treat it like any other law enforcement contact,” said Officer Chris Thompson. Now, instead of one-word answers from parolees, “sometimes I schedule a 10-15 minute appointment and then I spend 45 minutes with them.”

Clifton agreed.

“That time helps build the trust,” he said. “When they trust you more, they do more what they’re supposed to.”

Updated at 10:30 a.m. to add information about parolee fees and contract for Day Reporting Center.

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