Inmates eligible for release stuck in Nevada prisons

Inmates eligible for release stuck in Nevada prisons
The Department of Corrections has struggled to explain scheduling, Covid protocols and other details about resuming visitation. “So much is not communicated and that’s because they haven’t figured it out,” said Jodi Hocking, the founder of the prison advocacy group Return Strong.(Nevada Department of Corrections photo)

by Dana Gentry, Nevada Current
August 24, 2021

CARSON CITY–Nevada’s carceral system is housing inmates who are eligible for parole but lack the money to pay rent at a halfway house or other state-approved housing. 

As of July 9, the last report available, 57 inmates “had exhausted all residence options and were without means to parole” according to a statement from the Department of Parole and Probation. “Additionally, the Division had 29 inmates who refused to parole, choosing to remain incarcerated for the remainder of their sentence.”  

Inmates who serve a minimum of their sentence range — for instance, 24 months of a 48 month sentence — are eligible to be paroled and serve the remainder of their sentence under the supervision of a parole officer. To do so, they must submit a housing plan that is approved by the state. 

In a halfway house — a group residential setting where parolees live by house rules, attend programming, if it exists, and embark on a job search — the cost of a bed is approximately $500 a month. The cost of housing an inmate in prison averages $1,830 a month.  That’s $157,830 a month for the 86 inmates eligible for release. Subsidizing their rent would cost $43,000 a month.

Housing options for former inmates are limited. Some felony convictions disqualify individuals from joining family in public housing, and parolees are prohibited from living with other offenders, except in licensed facilities. 

Nevada has several dozen facilities licensed by the Parole and Probation Division as halfway houses, transitional living facilities for inmates, or alcohol or drug abuse treatment facilities for inmates — all of which differ in terms of costs, service, statutory definition and regulation.  

Nevada has seven licensed halfway houses — six in the south and one in the north. They are the most likely place for an indigent parolee to land. By statute, halfway houses do “not provide any treatment for alcohol or other substance use disorders.”

Halfway houses gained popularity after the Great Recession, as governments attempted to save money by cutting prison populations. Privately owned or operated by non-profits, and absent the ties that bind government agencies, halfway houses offer little in the way of accountability.  

Their success at keeping parolees on a path that doesn’t lead back to prison is unknown, for unlike most public facilities, information on outcomes is elusive.

“Another impetus for future study should be a concern with variables that predict integrity of halfway house programming as it relates to successful parole completion and recidivism. Our data only included limited demographics and institutional data about the population being researched, and no data on the transitional residences where these parolees were placed,” authors of a peer-reviewed report on halfway houses wrote in 2015 about the lack of available information. “Our data do not tell us whether halfway houses under observation were functioning with integrity.”

In 2020, the nonprofit Prison Policy Project reported “very little data about halfway houses has been available to the public,” noting that “even basic statistics, such as the number of halfway houses in the country or the number of people living in them, are difficult to impossible to find.”

Freedom House, a former apartment complex that serves as the largest halfway house in Las Vegas with 61 licensed beds, did not respond to numerous requests for comment.  Freedom House also operates the Cove, a halfway house for women. 

Samaritan House, Southern Nevada’s oldest halfway house, charges $500 a month for each of its 43 beds, according to the nonprofit’s board president, Tim Reed. The facility has no programming, with the exception of five in-house 12-step program meetings a week, according to Reed.

From June through December 2020, the state released an average of 31 parolees a month to Samaritan House, indicating an average turnover of 73% a month.

“Originally, it was a 90-day commitment, but that’s not strictly enforced,” says Reed.  “If they’re using it as a flop house, usually Parole and Probation is notified. If they test dirty for drugs or alcohol, they’re asked to leave.There’s no requirement on how long they stay, as long as they are going to meetings and trying to better their life.” 

“The Parole Board imposes the condition of release to a halfway house, which does not specify a determinate number of days in the program,” says the Parole and Probation Division. The division “has authority over approving residences and changes in residences for all parolees.  This is to ensure the parolee is on a sustainable trajectory. The Parole and Probation Division has an expectation and orders that parolees complete the program to which they are released.”

“Thirty days is not long enough,” says Roxanne DeCarlo, executive director of the Empowerment Center, the only licensed halfway house in Northern Nevada. 

The Empowerment Center, originally co-ed, serves only women. 

“We’re really a drug and alcohol treatment facility,” says DeCarlo.  

The program is partnering with a developer to build Marvel Manor, an affordable housing complex for clients and others, made possible by a “generous donation” and is “in a good area of Reno. We bought three acres, right near a major mall, super close to transportation.” 

The complex will provide long-term, low-income housing. 

Parole and Probation does nothing to assist with finding parolees long-term housing. 

“We start preparing them from the day they arrive,” says DeCarlo. “We let them know how much they’ll need to earn an hour” for the home they seek.  

‘Economic and moral imperative’

“Nevada believes it has an economic and moral imperative to support offenders recently released from custody to regain entry into the community,” says the state’s reentry website, but only 100 or so of the approximately 5,000 inmates released each year on parole receive assistance.  

A program initiated in 2002 to assist indigent offenders and reduce recidivism, Going Home Prepared, alloted $500 in assistance on behalf of parolees. It was later increased to $1,000 per inmate but funding was axed a year ago as a result of COVID budget cuts. 

This year, Gov. Steve Sisolak restored $228,000 to the program for the biennium. Assistance is paid directly to providers, generally for rent at a halfway house. 

Experts suggest the expectation that parolees support themselves from the day they walk out of prison is unrealistic. The prison’s own policies, such as deducting a share of the money earned by inmates or sent by families and friends, and requiring inmates to pay some of their own health care costs, chip away at whatever “gate money” parolees have in their pocket upon release.    

Of the roughly 2,000 inmates released on mandatory parole in 2016, about 22% returned to prison within three years, as did 31% of the 3,000 inmates granted parole by the board, according to a report released in May by the Nevada Department of Sentencing Policy.    

“In some limited cases with certain state partners, an inmate’s release can be funded through Medicaid, federal grants, or other funding means. In cases where none of this is available, the Parole and Probation Division will consider utilizing ‘Going Home Prepared’ funding,” the state said in a statement.

“Parole and Probation Division has a vetting process in place to determine ‘Going Home Prepared’ eligibility for those inmates that don’t qualify for these select programs (i.e., most sex offenders) and that are claiming to be indigent,” the department said. “That vetting process includes exploring the potential for VA (or other medical benefit programs) that the inmate may qualify for, the balance in their inmate banking account with NDOC, private sponsorship, and other potential funding sources.” 

DeCarlo says reentry substance abuse and mental health treatment programs need to be fully funded by the government. 

“When we first started, we were a halfway house. They (parolees) came. They were immediately pushed out to gain employment. They had to pay their rent on time and on a regular basis,” she says, 

Clients at the Empowerment Center are not allowed to leave the property without staff during the first 30 days.

“We really felt that building a foundation of recovery was important before clients go out and gain employment,” says DeCarlo. “We have mixed funding that assists clients in their first 30 days.”   

Clients pay an all-inclusive $155 a week thereafter.   

“I have 59 people at any time,” says Danielle Tillman, executive director of Ridgehouse, which is not a licensed halfway house but is a licensed drug and alcohol treatment release program for women in Northern Nevada. Clients “undergo a highly-intensive program for three to five months” and are funded “through a variety of sources,” primarily federal block grants and secondarily, Medicaid.  

“Ridgehouse doesn’t simply provide substance abuse treatment. We provide work training. We have grants. We put them through cosmetology school or college. We get them linked with primary care. We assist with budgeting,” she says. 

Reentry services, according to Tillman, “are fragmented elsewhere” and “should be a priority for the state.” 

A Nevada Re-entry Task Force, was created under the auspices of the Department of Corrections by an executive order from former Gov. Brian Sandoval. The task force held its last meeting in December 2018.

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