Crawford's prison legacy is tainted but intact

Jackie Crawford's legacy as the first female director of Nevada's prison system will be one of compassion and a commitment to a wide range of programs aimed at keeping inmates from returning to their criminal ways.

Unfortunately, it will also be one of leniency in letting prisoners go home early, a habit that cost her the job she had held for five years.

Crawford, who suffers from back problems, likely will be retiring by the end of the year. It's a shame her career ended on such a negative note, because for the most part she brought an even-handed and creative approach to the directorship. As the first woman in that role, she was second-guessed at every turn - more so, we think, than most men would have been - and yet moved the Department of Corrections forward with major expansions of the prisons and the influence they could have on shaping the lives of inmates.

This newspaper has published on many occasions glowing reports of programs such as wild-horse adoptions, arts and crafts fairs to raise money for a local school, high-school and college graduation ceremonies, stonemasonry and other prison industries, pet dog rehabilitation - just a few of the unusual activities inside the walls to supplement extensive training and educational classes.

The get-tough critics of Crawford's administration see them as feel-good programs, allowing the prison system to go soft on its main job of punishing lawbreakers. But Crawford understands that prison life trains a person either to be a tougher, meaner criminal or a productive member of society. Hope lies only in the latter.

Crawford also pushed for more funding for alcohol- and drug-treatment programs for the same reasons. The state's statistics show inmates who have gone through such rehab tend to return to prison about half as often as those who don't.

Perhaps it was Crawford's attention to the potential for improvement inside these people that led her to authorize early releases so regularly. There's no excuse for inadequate documentation in a prison society, which is open to easy abuse, and in the end those releases tainted the prisons' successes.

But when the pluses and minuses are tallied, Crawford's directorship comes out far ahead on the side of good.


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