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The State of Reform: A Conversation on Criminal Justice in #NVLeg with Assembly Member Daniele Monroe-Moreno

There’s been plenty of talk about the sharp focus on criminal justice reform in the Nevada Legislature this session. Why does this matter? Why should our state spend any more time on criminal justice? And why has a bill banning private prisons attracted attention? I spoke with that bill’s sponsor about private prisons and criminal justice reform in Nevada.

Anyone who’s been following #NVLeg on social media this year knows Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson (R-Henderson) has been attacking criminal justice reform efforts as “the felon session”. When I spoke with Assembly Member Daniele Monroe-Moreno (D-North Las Vegas) in her Carson City office last week, I asked her how she’d respond to Roberson’s attacks. Monroe-Moreno then recalled her own 27.5 year career as a corrections officer.

“Inmates are people. They are Nevada residents.” Monroe-Moreno went on to explain how her experience interacting with those going through criminal courts and jails influenced her mission in the Nevada Legislature. “I have a duty to represent all Nevada residents, even the ones who don’t vote for me.”

“If it’s the right thing to do, I have an obligation to do that.” – Assembly Member Daniele Monroe-Moreno

We also discussed AB 303, her bill to rein in the use of private for-profit prisons. I asked Assembly Member Monroe-Moreno why she introduced this bill, when the State of Nevada currently has no private prisons in the state. ICE, however, contracts with Corrections Corporation of America to operate the Nevada Southern Detention Center in Pahrump. She indicated concern for President Donald Trump’s plans to use more private prisons as part of his immigration crackdown. “We might go in that direction nationally. […] With the recent rhetoric in D.C., it’s a concern.”

AB 303 can’t affect the federal government’s decisions on private prisons, but it can influence state policy. Monroe-Moreno also brought up Nevada’s past experiments with private prisons. Following the revelation of rampant sexual misconduct at the Southern Nevada Women’s Correctional Facility in 2003, the Nevada Department of Corrections assumed control of the facility from Corrections Corporation of America. Clark County Detention Center ran into trouble in 2004 when the private Prison Health Services (now Corizon) run health care system denied an inmate vital HIV/AIDS treatment, which led to his death.

After those past incidents, Assembly Member Monroe-Moreno prefers the state take measures to prevent any further prison scandals.

“I don’t want us to be reactive. I want us to be proactive.” – Assembly Member Daniele Monroe-Moreno

Monroe-Moreno stressed that her fellow public correction officers are best qualified to supervise inmates. “The people who work in state prisons are properly trained.”

Earlier this month, Assembly Member Monroe-Moreno agreed to amend AB 303 to include a five-year grace period for the state to continue the exchange program that allows for some Nevada inmates to be housed in other states’ private prisons. She explained her agreement with the Nevada Department of Corrections to give them flexibility while they take action to reduce overcrowding. “While that’s not the most favorable solution, it is the fiscally responsible solution.”

Still, she hopes the amended bill will ultimately achieve her stated goal of providing the safest environment for all inmates.

“These people are our residents. They’re not commodities to be traded.” – Assembly Member Daniele Monroe-Moreno

Monroe-Moreno had more to say on the overall criminal justice system, and what needs to change. This brought us back to the drive for reform… And critics’ “felon session” attacks. Monroe-Moreno stressed that a holistic approach is needed, one that includes a strategy to reduce prison overcrowding and keep more people out of jail. “We have to focus on rehabilitation of prisoners so that they don’t come back.” She argued a holistic approach will keep former offenders out of trouble while also saving the state money.

The Assembly Corrections, Parole, and Probation Committee passed the amended AB 303 unanimously earlier today. It’s now on its way to the Assembly floor.

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