Crime in Nevada: Will Our Lawmakers Do What It Takes?

While crime across the U.S. and Nevada has increased dramatically over the last thirty years, the risk of imprisonment has actually decreased. For example, in 1960 there were 90 people in prison per 1,000 serious crimes, but in 1990 there were only 30. In addition, the odds of being a victim are far greater today than a generation ago. In 1963 the FBI crime index tabulated 2,180 reported crimes per 100,000 people; in 1993, this index counted 5,483 crimes per 100,000 people.

Recently we heard about encouraging statistics – that violent crime was on the decline. Oddly enough the mega-city of New York accounted for the lion’s share of nationwide improvement. So what did New York do? Can we translate their success into policy recommendations for Nevada? Yes!

Policy Recommendation #1 Abolish Parole for All Violent Offenders

Not surprisingly, Nevadans have become increasingly alarmed by news stories of violent crimes committed by individuals who had received long sentences for crimes but were released after serving only a small fraction of their sentence. This alarm is legitimate, for a high proportion of such early release prisoners commit serious crimes after being released. If crime is to be reduced in Nevada this trend needs to be reversed.

Many observers believe that keeping violent criminals incarcerated for at least 85 percent of their sentences would be the quickest, most certain route to safer communities. The reasoning behind this assumption can be better understood when viewing the chart below.

Offense Median Sentence Time Served
Murder 15 years 5.5 years
Rape 8 years 3 years
Robbery 6 years 2.25 years
Assault 4 years 1.25 years

National Center For Policy Analysis

Parole is a practice based on the mistaken idea that the primary reason for incarceration is rehabilitation, and it ignores the deterrent, incapacitate, and retributive reasons for imprisonment. In addition, parole, in too many cases does not work. While serving full sentences may mean more spending on prisons, policy makers and citizens need to understand that early release programs cost dollars rather than save them. A 1982 Rand Corporation study of prison inmates found that the average inmate had committed 187 crimes the year before being incarcerated. When criminals are released early, many commit a similar volume of crime when back on the streets.

What is the cost of such crimes? Taxpayers must finance the criminal justice system. Householders and businesses must buy private protection, such as lighting, locks, dogs, fences, and alarm systems. They must also pay more for insurance. The victims lose property and wages and often incur large medical bills. In addition to these direct costs, there are large indirect costs to crime as well. In conclusion, the public wants individuals who have committed serious crimes to be off the streets, serving their full sentences.

Policy Recommendation #2: Impose curfews for teens in all major cities in Nevada.

Curfews were implemented in the city of Reno for the downtown area only. Whereas nuisance and destructive teenage crimes have lessened in the city similar activity has moved to the suburbs.

Policy Recommendation #3: Expand the number of Boot Camps for Youthful Offenders.

Nevada presently operates two boot camp facilities: one in eastern Nevada, the other near Las Vegas. Not only are they able to deliver services to youthful offenders at a lower cost but they also provide inmates with disciplines and social skills useful in real life.

Policy Recommendation #4: Remove Legal Limitations On Private Sector Contracting For Inmate Employment.

Some prisoners in Nevada are employed by the prisons to make several products from mattresses to antique car restorations. But the prisons have jobs for no more than half of those imprisoned. Despite a consensus that prison inmates should be gainfully employed, most are idle. Their idleness contrasts sharply with the circumstances of their 19th century counterparts. Three-fourths worked and two-thirds of the workers were contracted to private entrepreneurs and farmers to produce goods for the general marketplace. Under such systems, prisons posted financial surpluses rather than burdening taxpayers. Few prisoners served more than one term, suggesting much lower recidivism than today. Yet the success of prison labor was repeatedly attacked by prison reformers, trade unionists and business owners who opposed the possibility of competition from prison-made goods. Over the years a series of federal and state laws make it increasingly difficult for either prison authorities or private firms to employ prisoners productively by banning the transport and sale of virtually all prison-made goods except to state and federal agencies. During world War II, prohibitions in inmate labor were relaxed, prison industries produced much-needed was material, prison morale rose and some prison became self- supporting. But restrictions were re-imposed when the War ended.

If one in four prisoners could be put to work for private enterprise over the next five to ten years, during which time the prison population is projected to increase substantially that would mean 100,000 new prison jobs. Allocating 60 percent of their earnings to taxpayer compensation could reduce taxpayer costs for incarceration by millions each year in Nevada. This would also assist in obtaining restitution for crime victims.