Thursday, February 18, 2010

Education Not Incarceration (SB 398): Town Hall Meeting, 2-13-2010

If legislators have the vision and courage to pass SB398, the State of Nevada would have millions more for public education and community reinvestment. I am asking Nevada voters to call or write their state lawmakers about this legislation.

According to the SAGE Commission, which approves of this measure, the State would save an estimated $51.2 million in the first year by diverting non-violent probation violators from prison to treatment. The SAGE Commission also estimates a $280 million savings over five years. Substance abuse treatment would be provided by the Department of Health and Human Services. The heads of Corrections and Parole and Probation have already publicly stated that they approve of this measure.

I speak to you not only as a concerned citizen, but also as an alumnus of UNLV, a CSN educator, and someone with considerable time working in and studying the Nevada justice system. As a case manager in high security mental health units at two state prisons, I have seen this waste of resources, where prisons have become “the new asylums” and where high security prisons serve as graduate schools for organized crime.

For 45 years the State of Nevada decided to invest in adult and youth prisons instead of communities, public education, and human services. Crime grew as a result of the growing casino culture, racial segregation and discrimination, and the refusal to treat people for substance abuse and mental health problems. Overall index crime peaked in Nevada in 1980, yet the fear of crime enabled lawmakers to push for more prison funding, amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars in capital expenditures. Currently, some lawmakers want to build prisons even as one facility lies vacant (Jean) and others face closing (Nevada State Prison, Summit View, Casa Grande).

Prisons in Nevada do little to habilitate prisoners, providing them with few opportunities to get the skills and resources they need to make it on the outside. It is appalling to see that Governor Gibbons proposes to close its only restitution center in Southern Nevada, while waves of low-level probation violators flood the high security High Desert State prison.

Let’s have the courage to start the savings now. The time is now to downsize this dysfunctional and costly part of government—and to replace it with community reinvestment and public education.