Las Vegas Sun

July 31, 2014

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Jail filling up, suburb to try new approach

In an effort to save money and reduce crowding in an often filled-up local jail, Henderson is set to establish an Alternative Sentencing Division at its next City Council meeting.

The new division would be responsible for supervising misdemeanor probationers. The aim is to increase their number by reducing the number jailed at the Henderson Detention Center — and to keep better track of them through increased monitoring and a new house arrest program.

“This is a way to make sure that people are doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” said David Hayward, Henderson’s Municipal Court administrator. “We can better ensure that people will comply with their sentence.”

Hayward said the program will be aimed primarily at domestic abusers, as well as some of the more serious drunken driving offenders. The program will mostly apply to misdemeanor offenders sentenced at Henderson Municipal Court, though some from the city’s Justice Court will also be enrolled.

The Henderson City Council is likely to pass the ordinance, which will be addressed at the council’s meeting Tuesday. It is on the meeting’s “consent agenda,” which includes measures the city typically believes are routine and can be voted on simultaneously.

The new division would be responsible for “direct” supervision of probationers by two Henderson marshals newly assigned to monitor them with regular checkups to make sure they follow judges’ orders — and arrest them if they don’t.

The current system has allowed “soft-monitoring” — meaning the burden has been on probationers to check in with the court, usually once every two to three months. And there’s often been little recourse for those who haven’t.

Assuming the ordinance passes, Hayward said, he expects about 80 probationers initially to be under direct supervision.

The new division will also include an increased community service component, as well as renewed efforts to make sure probationers who are assigned to counseling and treatment programs follow through.

Henderson spokeswoman Kathleen Richards said the new division will not require additional hires, a good thing for a city that has experienced such sharp declines in tax revenue.

Hayward said the program would also establish a house arrest system to more closely monitor some probationers who otherwise would have been sentenced to jail. In rare cases, Henderson has referred probationers to Las Vegas’ house arrest program.

Having its own house arrest program would save Henderson money, he said. Instead of paying to house and feed inmates, the city would charge fees to those in the program to pay for equipment and electronic monitoring, to make it a break-even effort.

A house arrest program would also help Henderson avoid overcrowding at its 260-bed detention center, Hayward said.

“We’re getting to the point where the Henderson Detention Center is full pretty regularly,” he said.

Hayward said he didn’t know exactly how many convicts would face house arrest under the new program. If passed, the full measure would take effect Jan. 1, he said.

Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, said his group had received only one recent complaint of overcrowding at Henderson’s jail. The ACLU closely monitors jail overcrowding, which has been a recurring problem at the Clark County Detention Center in downtown Las Vegas.

Henderson’s plans for an alternative sentencing division have been long in the making. The city prodded the Legislature during its most recent session, in fact, to change the law, to allow cities to establish such programs.

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