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Nevada lawmakers studying pretrial release of jail detainees

January 23, 2020 GMT

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — About 90 percent of jail detainees in Nevada are held in just two facilities — the Clark County Detention Center in Las Vegas and the Washoe County jail in Reno.

That’s what a panel of Nevada lawmakers learned Tuesday as they began studying rules for pretrial release of criminal defendants from local jails, the Nevada Appeal reported .

Nationally, three-quarters of jail detainees have not been convicted of a crime but remain held because they can’t afford bail pending trial, said Amber Widgery of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Democratic Sen. Dallas Harris of Las Vegas, head of the Legislature’s interim committee studying bail reform, asked staff to report the percentage of Nevada jail inmates eligible for pretrial release who are in the same category.

John McCormick, Nevada assistant court administrator, said keeping people jailed solely because they can’t raise bail money violates their 14th Amendment right to due process.

Detention requirements nationally have moved in recent years toward “own recognizance” releases without bail in many cases, McCormick said, and a dozen states and the District of Columbia have a “statutory presumption of release.”

Democratic Assemblyman Edgar Flores of Las Vegas said he wants to know the percentage of people released pending trial who made or missed court appearances.

Widgery said there are about 731,000 people held in America’s jails, including an estimated 120,000 held for other state, local or federal agencies including about 12,000 on immigration holds. Pretrial inmates account for about two-thirds of the overall total.

Las Vegas police report the Clark County jail, with 3,100 beds, operates at or near capacity. The average daily population at the Washoe County jail in 2017 was 1,085.

In Nevada, murder defendants and felony parolees arrested for a new and different offense can be held without bail.

Pretrial risk assessments currently being tried in Las Vegas will be mandatory statewide by September, McCormick said. The report is designed to help judges gauge whether a defendant poses a danger to public safety or will skip court appearances, while also allowing the judge discretion to deviate from the recommendation.

Harris said the committee will next hear from district attorneys, law enforcers, the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada and bail bonds businesses.