Sentencing Delays Continue to Plague Clark County Courts

Ongoing delays in the processing of pre-sentencing reports in Clark County have resulted in numerous criminals having to wait months after their convictions to finally receive the exact terms of their punishment. Some of these convicted criminals are housed in the Clark County Detention Center, while others remain free after having made bail. The cascade of problems these delays can cause have prompted concern among county commissioners, the courts, law enforcement officials, prosecuting attorneys and public defenders alike.

The problem is that Parole and Probation, the office inside the Department of Public Safety responsible for producing the pre-sentencing reports necessary for individual cases to move forward to sentencing, is operating under a backlog that now runs afoul of the law. Pre-sentence reports provide the courts with facts about an individual criminal’s history and circumstances that help judges formulate appropriate sentences. This summer, Parole and Probation was late in processing roughly 200 pre-sentence reports, resulting in an extra 2-4 months of incarceration at the Detention Center for affected inmates. As of October 17, there were 457 individuals still in jail who should already have been sentenced, but who had not been.

Nevada law provides that sentencing must occur within 45 days of a conviction, and that pre-sentence reports be finalized within 38 days post-conviction. The reasons for prompt sentencing are many, and include things such as the excessive cost of jailing convicts at the Clark County Detention Center for longer than necessary and the fact that sentencing delays for those out on bail increase the chances that the offender gets into additional trouble. Estimates suggest that the annual cost of housing those whose sentences have been delayed totals upwards of $17.3 million. Furthermore, convicts who are not sentenced in a timely manner can experience unnecessary delays in entering substance abuse and other counseling programs ordered by the courts.

The extended jail stays that have resulted from these delays are also problematic from a logistical point of view. According to Phil Kohn, a public defender in Clark County, the facilities themselves were never designed to accommodate the type of family visits and rehabilitative programming requirements that these inmates need. Unfortunately, the very budget constraints that make housing these prisoners for longer than initially contemplated are also contributing to the pre-sentence reporting problems at Parole and Probation.

The office of Parole and Probation itself currently employs 27 individuals charged with producing the reports, down 10 from past staff totals. In an attempt to eliminate the backlog, many staffers are having to work numerous overtime hours. Without action by the legislature, however, funding for additional workers will not be available for at least another two years. According to Clark County Department of Public Safety Deputy Director Jackie Muth, however, a request for legislative intervention to stem the tide of the backlog may be imminent.