Get Out Of Jail Free?

PRETRIAL RELEASE OUTCOMES STUDIED BY NEVADA JUDICIARY

By Sheila Freed

Lutheran-Episcopal Advocacy in Nevada is proud to be part of a movement that could radically change the justice system in this state.  The proposed changes line up beautifully with the ELCA Social Statement, “The Church and C criminal Justice:  Hearing the Cries” (2013).

James Hardesty, Associate Chief Justice of the Nevada Supreme court, spoke to members of LEAN in May.  Then at the Sierra Pacific Synod Assembly in June, the featured speaker at the LEAN-LOPP Advocacy Breakfast was Washoe County Public Defender Jeremy Bosler.    Justice Hardesty has worked for many years to make the criminal justice system in Nevada fairer and more efficient.  As the Public Defender, Mr. Bosler sees first-hand how the justice system is much harsher on the poor.

Both Mr. Bosler and Justice Hardesty spoke about something lawyers call “pretrial release,” which for most people means making bail.  A person gets arrested and either is able to muster the money to bail out or raise enough to post a portion of the bail and get out on bond.  It goes without saying that the bail system works against those who lack the financial resources to make bail.  Justice Hardesty pointed out that the system also releases the wrong kinds of people.  He used the example of a drug dealer, who can easily raise cash and therefore is back on the street within hours, as against a low-income single parent, who writes a bad check.  When that person must remain in jail, someone must be found to care for children, a job can be lost, and more.  Judge Hardesty reminded the audience that although both the drug dealer and the single parent enjoy the same legal and constitutional presumption of innocence, the negative consequences of arrest fall disproportionately on one.  Mr. Bosler noted that simply remaining in jail for more than a few days actually increases the likelihood that a person will commit another crime.  The reason is that the “pro-social connections” we all have in our daily routines begin to wither.

Many jurisdictions around the country have looked at the bail system and concluded that it isn’t fair.  Furthermore, it doesn’t work.  Justice Hardesty said that the federal courts have concluded that “a money bail system is unconstitutional.”  He cited a little known fact: In Nevada, it can cost a different amount of bail for the same offense, depending on what jurisdiction you’re in.  Washington, D.C., the states of Kentucky and Ohio have all moved to an “evidence-based” pretrial release system.  Their experiences are that if released with no bail, most people appear for court.  In Washington D.C., 92% appear, a higher percentage than with the bail system.

Justice Hardesty and his colleagues on the Supreme Court are now studying how moving to an evidence-based system would work in Nevada.  The key questions a judge must decide are whether the arrestee is a flight risk, and whether he or she is a danger to the community.  If neither is true, release on one’s “own recognizance” is appropriate.  In some cases, a person is neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community, but should not be released unsupervised because they are addicted or mentally ill or otherwise not functioning well.  Judges have authority to release that person with conditions.  So a release with a requirement to go into treatment could be issued.  The justices have reviewed various “assessment tools” used by other courts to determine the best course of action for a particular person.  In July, several courts around Nevada will begin “field testing” the assessment tools.  Washoe and Clark District Courts are among those participating.  At some point, the Supreme Court will issue rules that will standardize pretrial release practices throughout the state.

Judge Hardesty noted that no legislative action will be required to make the change; judges now have discretion to release people on their own recognizance, and often do.  Bail bondsmen are understandably against eliminating bail for most arrestees , and some legislators could try to stop the change because they don’t want to appear “soft on crime.”    Judge Hardesty urged LEAN to participate in the Court’s study and discussion of this topic.  To learn more, go to http://nvcourts.gov/AOC/Committees_and_Commissions/Evidence/Overview/.  For all details, click on “Documents and Forms” to the right.  Parishioners are invited to join the dialog by contacting LEAN Advocate, Rev. Mike Patterson, at mp4675@att.net.

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Cool Tools for Staying Informed … And Heard

By Sheila Freed

We are already a quarter of the way through the 120-day Legislative Session. There are about 1,100 Bill Draft Requests and in less than a month, they all must be introduced. Even people with strong interest in a particular issue can feel they’ll never successfully track what is going on.

Help is available, however. The Nevada Legislature has a wonderful website that enables private citizens not only to stay abreast of what’s going on, but to register their views. Let’s walk through a couple of these “cool tools.”

First, you may not know who your legislators are. Go to www.leg.nv.state.us, the Legislature’s home page. Down the right side is a list of topics. Find “Who’s My Legislator” and click on it. A window will open showing a map. In the top right corner is a space to put your home address. You’ll get back information on who your State Senator and Assembly Member are, complete with contact information.

If you want to learn more about that person, go back to the home page. Look at the top left corner where it says “Legislator Information.” Click on “Assembly” or “Senate” and then choose from the menu at the top of the page to get to an alphabetical list with each legislator’s background. There’s a ton of other information on the “Assembly” and “Senate” pages, including upcoming meetings and the daily calendar.

Politicians often find it safer to study a problem than actually take action to fix it. Have you ever wondered what happens to those studies? Back on the home page, right above “Assembly” and “Senate” is an option for “Research/Library.” Choosing that will get you to the home page for the Research Division of the Legislative Counsel Bureau. The Bureau’s reports on all kinds of policy issues are there.

If you’re interested in a particular topic, there’s a couple of ways to find all the bills that deal with that topic. On the Research Library page, scroll down to “Session and Interim Info” and find “Quick Look-Up by Bill or Subject. Using the subject search for the 2015 session will get you to the same alphabetical sort that is used to index the entire Nevada Revised Statutes, and you’ll find bills from Abandoned Property to Youth Parole Bureau. (Sorry, no Z’s.) If you click on the blue bill number, you’ll go to a page showing the current status of the bill, and a link to the text. As the bill goes through the committee process and the text is revised, you can follow the changes. Each new version shows in a different color.

Another way to find topics of interest is from the Legislature home page. Near the top of the list on the right side is “BDR List.” Clicking there will take you to a page where you can look at the “full list” or “divided list.” Choose “divided list” and you’ll get a search window. You can put in your Legislator’s name to see which bills that person has  sponsored, or you can put in a topic such as “education” or “health care.” This is not a comprehensive search, but it’s a start. Eventually there will be a blue number such as “AB 123” next to each BDR number. That’s the bill number once the BDR gets introduced as a bill. If you click on the blue, you go to the same place described earlier, with the status of the bill and a link to the text.

If you want to know why the language of a bill gets changed, go back to the page where you first looked for the text, the one that says “Status of Bill.” Toward the right, you’ll see information about the committees that have debated the bill. You can read the minutes of those meetings and look at the exhibits or handouts that are presented by people who testify about a bill.

So by now you’re well informed on the bills you have an interest in. You know how to contact your legislator because you looked at the “Assembly” and “Senate” choices on the legislative home page. Their email addresses and phone numbers are right next to their names, and it only takes a few minutes to express your views.

If you want to reach a wider audience, go back to the home page and scroll down the list on the right side. You’ll find “Share Your Opinion on Legislative Bills.” That opens a box where you can enter a bill number, then indicate “for” or “against” and add comments. Identifying information is required, to show you’re a live voter, not the creation of some activist or publicist. But here’s another cool thing: At the top of the “Share Your Opinion” box you can choose “View Comments.” Enter a bill number, and you’ll see all the comments others have made about that bill. You can choose “Reports” and see the results sorted in a dozen different ways. Reading the comments can be pretty entertaining.

So who needs video games? It’s possible to spend hours on the legislative website, getting smart and having fun. There’s no shortage of issues, many of them controversial. Part of our vocation as people of faith is to “speak truth to power,” and the webmasters at the Legislature make it easy. Lutheran-Episcopal Advocacy in Nevada (LEAN) urges you to do just that.

LEAN MLK Day event sheds light on urgent Nevada needs

Lutheran-Episcopal Advocacy in Nevada thanks everyone who helped with our event on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day — all who attended, all who responded to our appeal for donations, all who stuffed backpacks, and the businesses and individuals who provided food. We especially thank our outstanding speakers, and Office Depot for the generous discount on school supplies.

Nevada Chief Justice James Hardesty speaks at LEAN's Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday event at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Reno, Jan. 19, 2015.

Nevada Chief Justice James Hardesty speaks at LEAN’s Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday event at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Reno, Jan. 19, 2015.

Volunteers prepare school materials for backpack stuffing at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, Jan. 19, 2015

Volunteers prepare school materials for backpack stuffing at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, Jan. 19, 2015

LEAN’s event on the King holiday was to learn about issues that will be coming up in the 2015 legislative session, and to do the “Backpack Challenge,” designed to demonstrate to legislators that our schools need proper funding. Those who attended heard speakers, some in Las Vegas, some in Reno, connected by video cast.

James Hardesty, Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court, was the featured speaker. He began by giving credit to the faith community for its advocacy in past years for rehabilitation and re-entry programs. He said it has had the effect of changing the culture at the Nevada Department of Corrections. Justice Hardesty described the work of the Nevada Commission on Administration of Justice, and shared some items the Commission will propose to the Legislature. Among those are uniform assessment tools, so that regardless where in the state one is, the same criteria will determine whether a person is fit to release on bail, or whether that person should be paroled. The Commission would like more money allocated to Drug Court and Mental Health Court.

Mr. Mike Raponi spoke about education. He is director of the State of Nevada Office of Career Readiness, Adult Learning, and Educational Options. Some exciting programs are gearing up to train Nevada’s workforce for the technical jobs of the future. Built into the program are incentives to stay in school and graduate on time.

Mr. Shane Piccinini spoke in Reno on behalf of the Food Bank of Northern Nevada. As the public policy advocate for the Food Bank, his agenda is ensuring that federal funding for food programs is not cut. It might be surprising that at the state level, there is sometimes resistance to federal food programs. There are start-up costs and matching-funds requirements that some legislators reject. Who knew there is a Governor’s Council on Food Security? This group is working with the Legislature to remove barriers to federal help for hungry people, especially school children.

The Reverend Lionel Starkes, chair of the Union of Black Episcopalians, spoke in Las Vegas. He recalled some of the inspiring words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He linked Dr. King’s words and actions to the biblical charge to proclaim freedom to the captives. He noted that many remain captive today—to racism, economic and educational inequality, and that it is incumbent on us in the faith community to continue to work for equality for all.