State hiring writers to clear pre-sentence report backlog
February 7, 2014
Lawmakers last week approved shifting nearly a half-million dollars within the Parole and Probation budget to try and catch up on production of pre-sentence investigation reports judges use to determine a convicted defendant's sentence.
Public Safety Director Jim Wright told the Interim Finance Committee a variety of events over the past few years have left that staff unable to keep up with the demands, resulting, in some cases, in threats that P&P staff would be held in contempt by judges unhappy that they couldn't get the reports in a timely fashion.
Holding five P&P officer positions vacant will free up enough cash this fiscal year to hire 21 report writers, Wright said.
The current backlog, he said, is about 1,200 reports.
He said first, decreasing caseload projections by the consultants at JFA company resulted in elimination of 11 P&P specialists writing those reports to save money during the recession.
He said those projections have been inaccurate for several years — in part because P&P was sending JFA only the number of completed PSI reports.
Wright said that is much lower than the number of case referrals, the division's actual caseload.
In addition, he said supplemental reports — updates when new information or new crimes were reported in a case — weren't counted as part of the workload even though they take upwards of four hours each to prepare.
Another factor, he said, is the 2013 legislation requiring that defense lawyers get those reports much more in advance of sentencing than in the past.
The lead time was initially expanded to 14 days before sentencing, but will increase to 21 days in October.
All those things, he said, have made it impossible for existing staff to keep up.
He admitted it's a temporary fix designed to stay within P&P's existing budget.
He said he may be back in June to ask for more money to continue the program until the 2015 legislature opens for business.
By then, Wright said, he and his staff should have a much better handle on what's needed to get the job done.
"We need to whittle the backlog back down and see how many (report writers) we're really going to need in the future," he said.
Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, said making sure defense lawyers had the reports well in advance of sentencing was "a great idea."
"But there were just not the resources at the time.