By: Cassandra Hein
On January 22nd, 2017, Sean Whaley of the Nevada Review Journal reported that Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval is ‘pursuing creative solutions to a potential prison overcrowding challenge…including $2.7 million in funds’. The article reveals that ‘Nevada has the fewest parole releases to the community per-inmate population in the country.’ I commend the governor for taking action to solve the transitional problem in the state of Nevada.
The parole problem in Las Vegas caught my attention when I started documenting women being released from prison more than 3 years ago. I call the project After Orange.
My sister has been incarcerated in Las Vegas for the past ten years. She sees people coming in and out, witnessing the revolving “recidivism” door the rest of us only hear about. She personally knows many of the women who need a safe place to go. This is why I opened a transitional home for women being released from jail and prison. I call the house ‘After Orange: Halfway Home’.
In preparation for this project, I interviewed some people who operate transitional homes solely dedicated to people being released from jail and prison. It came to my attention that in order to parole an inmate directly into a group home of any kind, the facility must be state licensed. Otherwise, they would need to parole to a friend or family member’s home who is not an ex-felon. Out of the people I interviewed, none were licensed and all told me the state licensing process is ‘not worth it’. I sensed a collective feeling of frustration and confusion regarding this matter. Regardless of the sentiment, these individuals were still able to help with the transition process and have been doing it for years. Although it seemed like a state license was the only ‘legally acceptable’ way to accept parolees directly out of prison, I opened the home anyway with hopes of learning more about the problem first-hand.
There are only a handful of state licensed Transitional Living Facilities (TLF’s) in the city of Las Vegas dedicated to transitioning women out of prison.
Right now, Casa Grande is the star government solution. While Casa Grande is a TLF, it is technically a part of the Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC). It’s a prison that allows the inmates limited access to the outside world while completing their prison or parole sentence. I started documenting a woman named Reyna, who was an inmate at Casa Grande and made parole status while living at the facility. She started volunteering at my home during the day while using our computer lab to look for a job. Reyna had been attending computer classes at Larson’s school, and she was using her new skills to set up social media for the After Orange organization. We were trying to get her transferred to After Orange: Halfway Home when we hit a roadblock. Reyna’s appointed parole officer denied our halfway home address. I was told to contact the Division of Public Behavioral Health to ‘get on the parole and probations approved list’. This division is a branch of the Department of Health and Human Services. It is the largest state department in Nevada and has the authority to issue licenses for 28 types of health facilities in the state. TLF’s are on that list.
The Division of Public Behavioral Health admitted to me that they have ‘never dealt with anyone interested in becoming a licensed TLF’. In fact, their knowledge of TLF’s was so scarce, they referred me to speak with Melba, a lovely woman who owns Hope House Recovery. Melba’s home is state licensed, but it is a ‘Recovery’ based program. It isn’t solely dedicated to the release of ex-offenders, although she does take them in. Hope House Recovery is currently a program for men only, and Mebla has been operating the home for 30 years.
‘We Care’ is another state licensed recovery home, and it allows female parolees. Unfortunately, it costs $2,500/ month for the residents. Ruth and Joan have been operating ‘We Care’ since the 1960’s. They explained to me that regulations mandating the state license started in the early 2000’s. Their facility was ‘grandfathered into being state licensed because they were already established’.
So, how would I go about getting a state license so I can accept parolees directly out of prison?
The nice man at the Division of Public Behavioral Health emailed me a checklist of requirements, which stated that the initial application fee for the license is roughly $4,000, plus the cost of $146 per bed. But first, I would need to obtain a special use permit before initiating the process, which is another $125. One of the biggest expenses is the cost for fire sprinklers, which can cost up to $30,000.
Under the TLF guidelines…
“occupancy classification and sprinkler requirements are determined by the local fire authority or State Fire Marshal (NRS 477)…the sprinkler requirement can be waived for facilities with 5 beds or less…sprinklers are required for a facility with more than 16 beds per NAC 449.154999(2).”
This leaves a large gap of “unknown” requirements between 6 and 15 beds, in which our facility would just happen to fall.
When I asked if I would need to install a sprinkler system for 10 beds, the Division of Public Behavioral Health referred me to the State Fire Marshall. However, the State Fire Marshall turned me back to the Division of Public Behavioral Health because we must first take the ‘correct’ steps of their licensing process. This means we must first pay the $4,000 application fee before even knowing if we need to install a $30,000 sprinkler system.
The State Fire Marshal’s stamp of approval comes complete with a $22 certificate. Once the home is approved, we will still need to pay an initial set-up fee of $2,020. These expenses do not include the projected costs for facility compliance, such as sterilizing mattresses, managing the facility, kitchen permits, and other miscellaneous items on the checklist.
To put it bluntly, the state requires you to pay $10,000 to $50,000 dollars to become a state licensed TLF, which does not include the costs of year-round management, insurance, or legal fees.
The way some non-licensed halfway houses currently navigate this problem is by:
1) Getting residents whose cases expire, which means they spent their eligible parole time in prison.
2) Having the inmate parole to another address, and then transfer to the halfway house after they get out. Please note: this process does nothing for people who don’t have access to another address.
I’ve found that approval to transfer into our home is often left up to the discretion of the parole officer.
Four of our residents have been approved to join our home by their parole and probation officers, but only one of them (Amalia) came directly from prison. This is because Amalia was able to transfer to our home on the day of her release. Amalia was technically paroled to her father’s address, but her parole officer agreed to process her transfer immediately.
Amalia wanted to come to our home for the structure, resources, and support…
We have a 9pm curfew, mandatory substance abuse meetings, all of our residents are expected to attend the Hope For Prisoners Workshop, FIT (The Foundation for an Independent Tomorrow), computer classes at Larson’s School and or programs at the Las Vegas Urban League until they find employment.
We also have a computer lab where they can construct job resumes and look for work. We try to create entrepreneurial, volunteer and job opportunities from our home office as well. This gives the ladies a chance to support one another while they make the transition into the real world after being institutionalized.
Although we were able to jump through some hoops to get Amalia in immediately, this was definitely a make-shift solution to a systemic problem. Not everyone has a temporary address to which they can parole. The women without somewhere to go are the ones who need us most. Furthermore, the transfer is not guaranteed and there are risks involved, especially when the the temporary address is not somewhere they can be. If the only option is an address with drugs or other hazardous circumstances, the impacts can be devastating if the transfer doesn’t come through.
Casa Grande to the rescue?
There are hundreds of men and women who are not getting out of prison because the parole board denies their plan. In 2005, the government attempted to address this problem by creating Casa Grande. But how much is this facility really helping?
According to Nancy Cole, operator of a non-licensed transitional home, Casa Grande was short of beds just two months ago. She attempted to help by accepting 8 female parolees from Casa Grande to her home. All 8 of these parolees were denied by the same parole officer. That parole officer never came to Nancy’s home to see the location or program; which includes resources to help find jobs, churches, meetings, and curfew. The Parole Officer referred her to the Division of Public Behavior Health, just as he did with me. He then approved one of those women to move to Budget Suites, which costs $1200 per month and has many ex-felons living in the vicinity. The same parole officer approved another woman to enter a home with 12-20 people using one bathroom. Why? Because it was on the list of Parole and Probation-approved houses. As a side note: State licensed facilities are limited to 4 people per bathroom.
If Casa Grande is a licensed TLF, why can’t inmates transfer from there to an unlicensed home?
Multiple parole officers allow women from Casa Grande to transfer into our home, but only after they transfer to another address. Why is this necessary for women who are already on parole? Simply put: it is basically a glorified minimum-security prison.
It is a well-known fact that the prisons are extremely over crowded. The Las Vegas Review Journal article indicates that the NDOC has ‘converted large areas of prisons, created for other purposes, into dormitory-style-beds.’ When I called Casa Grande to see how many beds they have available, they told me “we always have beds available”. If this is true, then why aren’t they getting more people out of the prisons?
I commend Governor Sandoval for taking the initiative to find creative solutions. As a citizen who cares about solving these problems, I hope my feedback is considered when these solutions are created. Community involvement to solve the transitional problem in Nevada is absolutely crucial. I hope our contributions will result in an easy, relaxed, healthy, and positive transition into a more efficient parole process.