About 123 Washoe jail inmates quarantined after possible flu outbreak

From Reno Gazette-Journal

July 31, 2009

About 123 Washoe jail inmates quarantined after possible flu outbreak

About 123 jail inmates in one housing unit are in quarantine after six inmates exhibited flu-like symptoms in the last two days, the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office reported.

Jail staff are trying to find out if any of the inmates have a swine flu virus, now officially called H1N1.

“Precautionary quarantines are not uncommon in custody situations,” Sheriff Mike Haley said in a statement issued by the sheriff’s office. “We take the health and safety of the inmates and the staff very seriously. It makes sense to be cautious and begin quarantine early in an attempt to control the spread of any illness and minimize the effect on all those involved as well as on our daily operations.”

Housing units have been quarantined before because of flu, the jail said. Quarantines are called for when five or more people housed in one area of the jail show symptoms of a contagious disease.

The inmates can circulate in that housing unit but can’t mix with inmates from other housing units, sheriff’s spokeswoman Brooke Keast said. She said it’s a general population housing unit.

Inmates who have to go to court are still going to court and will wear masks, Keast said.

Two inmates at the Elko County jail tested positive for swine flu in the past week, prompting new policies. New detainees who can’t post bail or be released on their own recognizance will be taken to the Lander County jail in Battle Mountain instead, The Associated Press reported.


Court Revives Suit Against Reno Police Over Detainee Suicide

Read article here: Metropolitan News Enterprise

Monday, July 27, 2009

Court Revives Suit Against Reno Police Over Detainee Suicide
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Friday revived a lawsuit against the city of Reno, Nev., and two police officers arising from the death of a mentally ill detainee—one of six individuals who committed suicide at the Washoe County Jail in less than 20 months.

Reversing a grant of summary judgment by U.S. District Judge Howard D. McKibben of the District of Nevada, the panel ruled that a reasonable jury could have found Ryan Ashton and David Robertson had been deliberately indifferent to Brenda Clustka’s medical needs by not reporting her threat of suicide and attempt to choke herself with a seatbelt while being transported to jail.

A jury also could have reasonably determined that the city’s failure to train its law enforcement officials and implement written policies on suicide prevention constituted deliberate indifference and were, independently, a moving force behind the officers’ violation of Clustka’s constitutional rights, the panel said.

Clustka had a history of mental health problems, alcohol abuse and run-ins with the law. Between 2001 and 2004, Clustka was involuntarily committed to the Nevada Mental Health Institute on three separate occasions for threatening or attempting suicide.

In April 2005, after another suicide threat, Clustka was again admitted to NMHI but released 24 hours later, having been assessed as posing a “low risk of harm.”

Police Respond

Several hours after she was discharged, Robertson and Ashton were called to a location where Clustka was passed out on the sidewalk. Ashton had been one of the responding officers to a domestic battery call involving Clustka and her mother just over a month prior.

Finding Clustka to be “grossly intoxicated,” the officers said they decided to take her into protective custody until she sobered up.

They ran a “wants and warrants check” which warned of Clustka’s violent tendencies, drug abuse, alcoholism, mental health problems, and a restraining order obtained against her by her mother.

En route to the jail, Ashton said he observed Clustka remove her seat belt and wrap it around her neck in an apparent effort to choke herself. When the officers removed it, they said she screamed something to the effect of: “Just kill me. I’ll kill myself then.”

Both Ashton and Robertson testified that they interpreted Clustka’s words and actions as a mere attempt to get their attention and that they did not believe Clustka’s threats to be serious.

Neither officer notified jail personnel that Clustka had tried to choke herself and threatened to commit suicide, nor did they inform their supervising sergeant of the incident.

Clustka was held at the Washoe County Jail for nearly four hours, and was released without further inquiry.

The next day she went to her mother’s home, in violation of a restraining order against her. She was then arrested by two other Reno police officers.

No Suicide Watch

After Clustka was booked, she was recommended for assignment to the general inmate population. Because Clustka had been on suicide watch during her previous detention in March, she was placed in the mental health unit in a red jumper to alert staff that she was a high risk detainee but she was not placed on suicide watch.

She committed suicide by hanging herself with a bed sheet the next afternoon, less than 48 hours after her threat to Ashton and Robertson and less than 30 days after another detainee had committed suicide. In all, six detainees committed suicide at the Washoe County Jail between January 2004 and August 2005.

Clustka’s surviving children sued Robertson, Ashton and the City of Reno under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, but the district judge found the plaintiffs failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the officers were deliberately indifferent to a serious medical need by failing to report the choking incident and suicide threat, and whether such failure to report was the proximate cause of Clustka’s death.

As a result, McKibben determined that there was no basis on which a jury could find either individual liability or municipal liability and granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants. But Ninth Circuit Judges Stephen Reinhardt and Mary M. Schroeder and Senior Judge Dorothy W. Nelson disagreed.

Reinhardt posited in his opinion for the appellate court that the choking incident, accompanied by Clustka’s threat to kill herself and undisputed history of mental health problems, alcohol abuse, substance abuse, and suicidal tendencies, would support a jury finding of threat to Clustka’s health that was objectively serious, and if untreated, was likely to cause her significant injury.

“An objective juror could certainly conclude that in light of all the circumstances Clustka’s actions evidenced a serious medical need,” Reinhardt wrote. “The defendants’ attempts to cast doubt on the gravity of Clustka’s words and actions merely create a fact question for the jury to resolve.”

He also reasoned that the officers’ admitted knowledge of Clustka’s mental and emotional instability, coupled with their observation of her dangerous behavior, provided circumstantial evidence sufficient to create a genuine issue of fact regarding the officers’ subjective awareness of Clustka’s mental instability and need for medical intervention.

As for causation, Reinhardt suggested that a jury could reasonably find that the officers’ failure to report Clustka’s behavior deprived the individuals who evaluated her of critical information, which foreseeably undermined her access to effective medical evaluations and adequate mental health care.

Reinhardt said that the Eighth Amendment right of a detainee who attempts or threatens suicide en route to jail to have the transporting officers report the incident to those who will next be responsible for her custody and safety was clearly established, but that summary judgment on the issue of qualified immunity would be inappropriate as the issue of whether the officers had violated Clustka’s rights remained in dispute.

Turning to the question of municipal liability, Reinhardt noted the city did not challenge the plaintiff’s evidence that the city had not trained its officers in suicide prevention and the identification of suicide risks or have a written policy on reporting suicide threats at the time of Clustka’s death.

“Given the predictability of suicide risk among detainees, and the likelihood of constitutional violations if suicide threats go unreported, the plaintiffs have presented a genuine issue for the jury on whether the failure to adopt and implement policies on suicide prevention was deliberately indifferent, and whether that deliberate indifference was a ‘moving force’ behind the violation of Clustka’s constitutional rights,” Reinhardt said.

However, the panel affirmed the grant of summary judgment in favor of the city based on its failure to address alleged deficiencies in Robertson’s job performance or to discipline Robertson and Ashton for not reporting the choking incident and suicide threat, as neither provided a separate basis for municipal liability.

The case is Conn v. City of Reno, 07-15572.

Prison smoking ban won’t apply to religious ceremony

Las Vegas Sun

By Cy Ryan
Friday, July 24, 2009 | 1:50 a.m.

CARSON CITY – Despite a newly imposed ban on smoking at Nevada prisons, American Indians will still be able to puff tobacco in their ceremonial pipes during their religious ceremonies.

Howard Skolnik, director of the state Department of Corrections, has told a state advisory Indian committee that the pipe smoking practice will be allowed to continue as long as there are not abuses.

Skolnik and Senior Deputy Attorney General Janet Traut expressed concern that many non-Indians would invade religious ceremonies in the sweat lodges just to get a smoke.

There’s a rumor at the prison that a single cigarette is going for $50, she said. “Inmates really value it.”

The smoking ban applies to both inmates and staff.

Regulations allow only those who have ties with Indian tribes or groups to participate in the sweat lodges ceremonies.

Concern has been expressed that some non-Indians have participated in the religious ceremonies for a long time. Skolnik told members of the Advisory Committee on the Treatment and Religious Freedom of American Indian Inmates in Nevada Correctional Facilities that he is willing to consider those individual cases.

Rocky Boice, a member of the advisory committee, said after the meeting that the prison system has been trying for several years to dissolve the sweat lodges. Boice, a sweat lodge leader who visits the various prisons in Northern Nevada to conduct ceremonies, said he feels the prison is in violation of “a lot of federal laws” involving freedom of religion.

“It’s something that we have got to keep working on,” said Boice. “We have got to keep these ceremonies going. It’s all the Native Americans have in there, the right to practice their native spirituality.”

The sweat lodge is a circular structure in the prison yard, covered with blankets or other materials. Rocks are heated on the outside by fires and then brought into the lodge and placed in the center. Water is poured on the rock to produce steam.

The Indians sing and pray and at the end of the ceremony smoke the pipe. Boice said the smoking of the pipe releases the prayers of the inmate. And these are “purification ceremonies” says Boice.

“The Native American religion is the oldest in the United States and we have to defend it,” said Boice.

Boice also complained that the raw food at these ceremonies was banned. But Skoknik told him this was done by the state Health Division. Cooked food is allowed in these ceremonies where the Indians sit around the heated rocks during the religious offerings.

No Exit

A new report released by The Sentencing Project finds a record 140,610 individuals are now serving life sentences in state and federal prisons, 6,807 of whom were juveniles at the time of the crime. In addition, 29% of persons serving a life sentence (41,095) have no possibility of parole, and 1,755 were juveniles at the time of the crime.

No Exit: The Expanding Use of Life Sentences in America represents the first nationwide collection of life sentence data documenting race, ethnicity and gender. The report’s findings reveal overwhelming racial and ethnic disparities in the allocation of life sentences: 66% of all persons sentenced to life are non-white, and 77% of juveniles serving life sentences are non-white.

Other findings in the report include:

* In five states – Alabama, California, Massachusetts, Nevada, and New York – at least 1 in 6 prisoners is serving a life sentence.

* Five states – California, Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, and Pennsylvania – each have more than 3,000 people serving life without parole. Pennsylvania leads the nation with 345 juveniles serving sentences of life without parole.

* In six states – Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota – and the federal government, all life sentences are imposed without the possibility of parole.

* The dramatic growth in life sentences is not primarily a result of higher crime rates, but of policy changes that have imposed harsher punishments and restricted parole consideration.

The authors of the report, Ashley Nellis, Ph.D., research analyst and Ryan S. King, policy analyst of The Sentencing Project, state that persons serving life sentences “include those who present a serious threat to public safety, but also include those for whom the length of sentence is questionable.” One such case documented is that of Ali Foroutan, currently serving a sentence of 25 years to life for possession of 0.03 grams of methamphetamine under California’s “three strikes” law.

The Sentencing Project calls for the elimination of sentences of life without parole, and restoring discretion to parole boards to determine suitability for release. The report also recommends that individuals serving parole-eligible life sentences be properly prepared for reentry back into the community.

Some public comments, made at the Meeting of the Board of Prison Commissioners, July 14, 2009

For the Record

Meeting of the Board of Prison Commissioners

July 14, 2009

To the Members of the Prison Commission and the Public,

Since last meeting, April 14th, nothing has changed that I have noticed: inmates in Ely State Prison are still not being treated properly for serious medical problems, the prison is still on lockdown except for 2 units, some inmates are kept illegally on a ‘High Risk Potential’ even though there are no apparent reasons to keep them on this inhuman status (keeping an inmate on a leash while he has to walk through the visiting room to the restroom during a visit, sounds a lot like what we saw on pictures in the media of Abu Ghraib).

There also are no programs, no steps, to step down from one level to the next.

Inmates are not able to make telephone calls according to the rules, because telephones are not brought to the inmates when they need to make a call to their relatives.

Cleaning material is scarcely handed out if at all. There are far too many strip-searches, even though it is even noted in the media that it is some employees who bring in illegal drugs, not inmates. Strip-searches are inhumane and the ones who have to check up become dehumanized too by doing them so often. People, whether inside or out, have to be able to retain their dignity.

Also, I hear that very recently, order forms were taken out of catalogues of a bookseller, by those employed in ESP in unit 3, so that the inmates are discouraged to (or can not even) order any books to read. This is unnecessary and it only produces a dangerous level of lethargy and disturbance of minds.

Also, mentally ill patients are being housed in this maximum security prison, whereas it is not meant to be a mental hospital. This brings along high levels of noise and disturbance for those patients (who need treatment) as well as those next door who try to make something of their lives, even if they are locked up. See also the article in Las Vegas Sun recently, July 12 (http://lasvegassun.com/news/2009/jul/12/illness-keeps-many-cycle-through-jail/).

There needs to be a change of mentality in society, in Nevada, within the Department of Corrections, from only cutting costs without any alternative and improvement to making society better and by doing this, preventing crime and cutting cost by not having to house so many people for years on end with no goal, no medical care, no redemption, no growth, no forgiveness, no love.

Is this a message for ‘soft-hearts’? I think it takes guts to want to change and engage in supporting children so that they grow up becoming balanced adults, in stead of greedy, corrupt, selfish people who will believe that crime (doing bad) pays and that being greedy is good. It takes courage to really invest in rehabilitating people who have made wrong decisions, who have succumbed to becoming addicted to hard-drugs. It is not only stupid to be so-called “tough on crime” by not wanting to see what this system results in, it will cost society ultimately too much in money and dangerous situations (most inmates will one day be released!) to lock people up with no alternative and to not want to see they are people, with needs just like you and me. We who pay for the prison system, you and me (I too pay tax over there, as well as those who are incarcerated pay tax), we want oversight over what is happening to our money; and we whose parents, children, husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, siblings are locked up: we want to know that even though they are locked up, they are at the same time looked after and offered chances for growth and rehabilitation.

The amount of lawsuits against the warden of ESP is growing, and do we really want our money to go to these lawsuits, if a better warden would be found, who listens and acts when it matters, and who is not a frightening dictator under whose management diabetics rot to death? Surely Nevada can do much better than this!






DATE: 14 July 2009

Good Day.

Requested prisoner deaths from May of 2007 to the present have failed to arrive, but here is a partial list only from Carson County, for your information:

Anthony Weber 05/02/07

Richard Adams 05/10/07

Michael Kisling 05/19/07

Warren Staden 06/06/07

Anthony Melchor 06/08/07

Pioquinto Herrera 06/27/07

Virgil Stephens 07/06/07

Virgil Perry 07/29/07

Maynard Humphrey 08/09/07

Mark Miller 08/15/07

Ronald Royston 09/03/07

Michael Wallace 09/03/07

Robert Boswell 11/25/07

Dale Burroughs 12/19/07

Edwin Chartier 12/20/07

James Bey 02/13/08

Jack Leafdale 03/06/08

Lawrence Booker 03/10/08

Luther Hayslip 03/21/08

Armondo Claro-Garcia 03/26/08

Johnnie McGraw 05/18/08

John Stafford 05/27/08

Darren Enlow 05/29/08

Thomas Smith 05/31/08

Hermenegildo Escalara-Barragan 06/02/08

John Dillon 06/04/08

Sylvester Azbill 06/08/08

Bobby Boswell 06/12/08

Felipe Azanon 06/21/08

David St. Pierre 07/07/08

Thomas Zanetti 08/22/08

Pinkus Ralzin 08/29/08

Jose Obregon 09/23/08

William Barney 10/15/08

Donald Tanner 11/04/08

Sever Marga 12/05/08

Raymond Price 12/06/08

Michael Bowman 12/25/08

Though I was polite in my inquiry, the director of nursing hung up in my ear, after telling me to go to your office, AG Cortez Masto. But, to date I have received no answer to my inquiries for NDOC death data and other requests. Why is your staff unable to find my letters and answer them? Is NDOC also losing death data, or not recording it? Your public information staff member told me she would call me back regarding my inquiries, but, she has not.

For your direct information, here are copies of my certified letters to you, AG Masto:

11 May 2009

Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto

Office of the Attorney General
100 North Carson Street
Carson City, Nevada 89701-4717

Dear Attorney General Cortez Masto,

I met you at the 21 Feb 2009 meeting of the League of Women Voters of Las Vegas Valley where you spoke on “The Role of the Board of Prison Commissioners.” I’m the lady from Arizona who came a long way to hear you. Remember that we spoke both before and after the meeting?

I shared with you that new leadership was needed for the prisons. You told me that I might like to attend the commissioners’ meeting in April because Mr. Miller was going to bring that up.

Well, I need your help. I spoke at the 14 April meeting, you may remember, and made a written submission for the record, what I see as a pattern of failure, abuse and ways to stop lawsuits.

20 April 2009 I emailed a request for a “DVD and/or audio” of the Nevada State Board of Prison Commissioners’ meeting of 14 April 2009 to Secretary of State Ross Miller’s office assistant, Sally.

I received no email reply. 30 April 2009 I called Mr. Miller’s office. Ms. Sally Lincoln told me that Mr. Miller had sent you my request. She said that he had concerns about fulfilling my request because of family privacy rights that concerned him. But, this was a public meeting.

Ms. Lincoln told me that they had no projected date as to when you would have a decision on whether or not my request could be fulfilled.

Will you please have Mr. Miller’s office send immediately (advise me of costs if there are costs):

a copy of the DVD recording of the meeting (containing both pictures and audio); plus,
a copy of the submissions made to the prison board; and
the sign in list.
I wish that you had given some hope to us at the meeting, a comforting word or two. We want prisoners to succeed. Please do so in the future? We need fully accredited to professional standards… in all areas.

In closing, can you please send what happened during the disturbance in High Desert State Prison 13 April 2009 that Mr. Skolnik talked about at the14th board meeting? Please include photos of both prisoners and guards who were injured, if they were? I sincerely hope all are in good health now.

And my second certified letter:


19 June 2009

Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto

Office of the Attorney General
100 North Carson Street
Carson City, Nevada 89701-4717

Dear Attorney General Cortez Masto,

Three requests for information, please, from the NDOC? If these is a charge for copying, please advise

1. Please send the updated death list information for NDOC prisoners for who have expired while inside NDOC: 20 May 2009 to the present; (NDOC Nursing Director ref’d me to your office);

2. Please send what happened during the disturbance in High Desert State Prison 13 April 2009 that Mr. Skolnik talked about at the14 April board meeting including photos of both prisoners and guards who were injured, if they were? I sincerely hope all are in good health now; and

3. Please send a record of use of force inside NDOC facilities for the past five years, with photos;

4. Please send breakdown of those in solitary confinement, Ad Seg or Dis Seg, as I believe NDOC

officials refer to it, by time and race since 01 January 2007. Years ago NDOC officials did not keep this information. I hope they do now since it is important to understand how officials are administrating Nevada prisons in this regard.

Please answer my inquiries as soon as possible?

Why were staff members unable to prevent this recent tragic death at High Desert State Prison?

Bryan Tyler Nowell, Age 45
Administrative Segregation/Disciplinary Segregation Unit (The HOLE: Solitary Confinement)
Born 05/17/64
Died 03 June 2009
Suicide: Asphyxia by Hanging

Solitary confinement, as I submitted to you in my comments 14 April 2009, the Dr. Stuart Grassian report referenced, causes damage to human beings and in this case, death. We must stop this inhumane process today. Please give the order to Director Skolnik, Governor Gibbons, AG Cortez Masto, Mr. Miller… today, that solitary confinement stops now.

How many suicides have happened since May 2007 in Nevada prisons?

How are first line responders on duty in Nevada prisons educated to recognize those who are mentally unstable and may be thinking of taking their lives?

Are corrections officers advised about who is taking psychotropic drugs? Shouldn’t they know this in order to prevent suicide and other violence?

What is the budget for first responder education?

For a person to die in solitary confinement, or be allegedly gassed approximately 20 times and have a guard break a finger in a food slot at Ely State Prison recently, per a new Ely lawsuit in US District Court, is unacceptable and socially reprehensible. Prisoners are people.

Why are NDOC officials denied a prisoner with a rare liver disease medical care at High Desert, Mr. Miller? Will you please visit him to see for yourself? Will he die before release? Don’t you want to see his refused medical grievances? His life is at stake.

Why are NDOC officials shuttling the Ely HIV prisoner, whom guards there and at NSP have beaten, stabbed and shot during his Nevada incarceration, for treatment to High Desert, even though there are no specialists there to help him? Does this not further stress this prisoner to the point that he, too, will die young? Please move this prisoner to NNCC where he belongs.

We want to see education for officers and staff in violence prevention in Nevada prisons.

Where does the prison food coming from? What is the daily cost now? Why are we receiving reports of Nevada prisons serving expired food and that it is dwindling in serving sizes? How many calories are our prisoners getting daily? Where are the dieticians to supervise food service? Is it true that Nevada prisoner requests for Kosher food are not being honored?

What about those prison buses that the Department of Transportation has no responsibility to check for safety during prisoner transports? Who manufacturers those buses? Who inspects them and how often? How do prisoners get out alive if there is an accident? Are they coached on what to do in case of an accident to be able to get out safely? Why don’t prisoners get to see out? Are bus drivers licensed commercially? How many buses are there?

Is it true that NDOC officials allow senior corrections officers to recruit informants, snitches in prison terms, from the prison population, putting even more stress on prisoners. Do they order corrections officers to put prisoners on the train to Ely without due process? How much retaliation takes place against those who refuse? To what extent is retaliation taking place?

Why do Nevada prison mailrooms refuse to deliver books to prisoners, approved books that arrive? What happens to books undelivered to prisons? Why do corrections officers read magazines that families and loved ones pay for and reportedly keep them from the prisoners for weeks? Why don’t mailroom officials follow mail AR’s? Why do you allow punishment to all Ely prisoners by making them use tiny ink well fillers to write their letters with? To stop them from writing to loved ones and filing lawsuits?

Are you being loyal to the law by allowing unaccredited standards, operations and policies to continue inside Nevada prisons?

Why don’t Nevada prisoners in solitary confinement get daily fresh air and exercise, as is their right? Why do corrections officers take prisoners out at midnight, interrupting the sleep cycle?

Why do you allow Ely lockdown for years and years and years to continue? Please stop this today. You have the power. You can do it.

What are the guidelines for putting people into solitary confinement, ad seg, dis seg, to use your euphemisms?

Where are the felony charges against Nevada prisoners who are in solitary for extended periods?

Please produce the records of how long prison officials are keeping Nevada prisoners in solitary confinement.

Why don’t Nevada prisoners go to jail for assaults? Why don’t Nevada corrections officers go to jail for assaults?

How are the perpetrators of rape charged? Do they go to court? Or, do NDOC officials punish them by extending sentences without due process?

What are the NDOC regulations for time limits, if any, placed on people going into solitary?

Where are, and what are, the administrative regulations for the amount of time that officials can put prisoners in solitary confinement?

How much money is in the budget for corrections officers’ educations about recognition of mental health problems that prisoners may be suffering?

Here are excerpts of a letter from a prisoners’ family member that we received 13 July 2009:

…” I have suffered 13 years under the duress and frustration of the corrupt Nevada Prison System, Judicial system period. This is the “Country of Nevada”. Good Ole boys for sure and Ely guards are barbarians! P.up trucks drinking in the hills, cruel, I have seen the bleeding wounds on my husband’s ankles from having the shackles set to wear they rub and rub and break open old scabs from the week before, one guard will hike them up and tighten them another will just let them shift all around, I mean come on, walk from port to visit belly chain hands behind back cuffed shackles like he,s the incredible hulk and an escort officer, sometimes two, give me a break!

Ooooh are those guards tough, gag me, disgusting display of over the top unnecessary pain for the prisoner and extreme drama to increase the all ready distorted sense of importance these guards have!

No wonder they have such domestic violence problems!

…we do not trust anyone in connection with law they are all crooked corrupt tools of the higher echelon of our corrupt legal system.

As I stated I have suffered 13 years as has my husband I am ready to take a stand no matter what this lousy system needs to be torn down from the top down.”

What response do you advise us to give to this free person who is suffering daily because of operations and policies at Ely State Prison?

Please, take the high road in eliminating unacceptable Nevada prison conditions starting today. Implement a platform of rehabilitation and hope.

Please replace ineffective NDOC leadership with professional administration.

Please implement oversight in Nevada prisons today==before more violence erupts and the death toll for Nevada prisoners continues to escalate.

Yours truly,

Mercedes Maharis MA MS MA


By Coyote Sheff
(Taken from: Make the Walls Transparent)
It is 3:07 a.m. as I sit here in this cold silence of another imprisoned November night, I can hear the echoes of the ghetto life ringing clearly in my head; the gunshots, the sirens, the dogs barking the helicopters. It has been years since I’ve been in the ghetto, but the memories are still with me. Living in the ghetto, to me, is like what I’d imagined it had been to be in the war in Vietnam, the sounds, the constant violence, the despair.

The cold silence is broken by the screams of a crazy Indian on the top tier and my “ghetto day dream” fades away. I tune in to the screams and the noise. There is a psych patient upstairs on the other end of the tier. He’s an Indian dude named Pacheco. He is always yelling out racial profanities like “Fuck all Niggers!” and other stupid shit like that.

Tonight he has a new mantra. I can’t make out his words though, but he keeps repeating it over and over again. It seems that he has succeeded in frustrating a couple cats up there in his area, because I can hear their angry responses. One of the cats comes to the door and tells Pacheco to shut the fuck up, so Pacheco repeats his mantra louder and then I hear another cat yell from the back of his cell, “I’m gonna smash your face in if I see ya!”

Pacheco is an old Indian with long grayish hair and I can tell by the nature of his speech that he is missing his teeth. Maybe that’s why he’s so bitter, who knows. His whole purpose, his whole intent is to make everyone around him miserable and unfortunately he does a good job at it. He’s a “terrorist”, using psychological warfare and mental torture as MO Modus operandi: In here we refer to people like that as “a piece of shit.” They like to terrorize everybody around them for no apparent reason other than the fact that misery loves company, I guess.

Pacheco was my neighbor once, five years ago on another unit back here in the hole. For no reason other than to disturb me, he’d bang on my wall and bang on the desk all day long and he’d yell over me when I was trying to talk to one of my comrades over the tier just to prevent me communicating with others. That’s something a hater would do.

I got fed up with his shit and one day I unattached the cable cord from my TV and stripped the cable cord completely so there was nothing left inside of it and I turned it into like a little hose and when Pacheco was sleeping I’d run the hose over to the front of his cell and I’d piss in the hose and I’d continue to do it all throughout the night. Every time I had to take a piss and it would create a good-sized puddle inside his cell and when he’d walk up to grab his breakfast tray, he’d step in a big puddle of piss! He would terrorize me, keep me from sleeping, keep me from socializing and communicating with others and he’d stress me out, making me angry and unable to think clearly, so this was all I had, this was all I could do to get back at him.

The cold part about it was that he had the choice of either getting down on the floor and cleaning up MY piss, or leaving it there and smelling it all day and all night, so it was a lose-lose situation for him. I pissed in his cell every night, for a whole week straight and then these guards hurried up and moved him to another unit. The officers didn’t know it was my piss, though, they thought he was pissing on his own floor. Oh well.

These aren’t the types of stories people are used to reading about prison, I’m sure. But I keep it real and tell it how it really is in here. These are the atrocities of life in a maximum-security prison. This is just a glimpse of the inhumanity, the suffering, and the torture. It’s just a small example of how we are reduced to such lows, such drastic measures just to try to keep a piece of our peace of mind. It is very sad, this solitary life of madness. How can one get out of here and expect to live a normal or at least a decent life after this? How can one go from living like an animal to living as a free person in society?

This is a sad, lonely, disgusting profane existence here in this world, behind these cold stone walls and chain link fences and people need to understand this they need to know what really goes on in these maximum security prisons, where surviving perpetual lockdown has become a way of life.

I write about these things so people can understand, because we need support from people on the outs. We need to be provided the tools that will help us adjust after being in prison, living like this, to becoming free and trying to live and maintain in society. Most of the people who are in prison already had it bad before they came to prison, they have it bad while in prison, and then they have to go out and try to make it good with strikes against them? How does that work? It was bad before, it’s bad now and it’s still going to be bad after they get out, so how is prison solving crime? How is prison helping society? We are caught in a system that was not designed to care about us; we are caught up in a system that was not designed to help us. This system has no mercy for the poor. It’s an atrocity.

So when I say that I’m greeting you from a graveyard, I think you know what I mean. We are traumatized by all of this, from the ghettos to these prisons; it’s a miserable existence. We need to come together and find ways to rise above this.


Ely State Prison
November 2, 2008

Mental Illness Keeps Many on Cycle Through Jail

From: Las Vegas Sun

Illness keeps many on cycle through jail
Committing crimes gets them treatment which ends with their release

By Timothy Pratt

Sunday, July 12, 2009 | 2 a.m.

If Nevada was willing to invest in providing more psychiatric care outside of jail, not only would it do more to help the mentally ill, it would also cost taxpayers less than arresting and incarcerating the mentally ill, experts say.

Consider the jail and medication costs for the following three mentally ill inmates — and this does not take into account the additional court costs and other bills.

Dr. Keith Courtney, chief psychiatrist at Clark County Detention Center, withheld the inmates’ names to comply with patient privacy laws.

Inmate No. 1 suffers from autism and occasional psychotic episodes. When he’s out on the street, he gets in fights, takes drugs, attempts robbery, winds up at the detention center. He has been in jail 539 days since 2006. That means taxpayers have spent about $123,000 on keeping him jailed and medicated.

Inmate No. 2 is a 20-year-old man who has spent at least 520 days behind bars, mainly for armed robberies, since coming of age two years ago. The system has spent more than $120,000 in incarceration and psychotropic medication costs, Courtney says. The young man also winds up in the hospital after suicide attempts, which costs taxpayers even more. He was raped at 15 and now hurts himself repeatedly in the same part of his body.

Inmate No. 3 is a 32-year-old woman whose 441 days behind bars cost an estimated $100,000-plus. She is a victim of severe abuse and suffers from borderline personality disorder, often attempting suicide, Courtney says. She only takes her prescribed medication when she is jailed, preferring methamphetamine when she is not. She is often arrested for prostitution, sometimes burglary.

“She’s never here long enough to get adequate care,” Courtney says. She needs a safe house, treatment for drug abuse, ongoing intensive therapy. There is no one place where she can get all that. “I fully expect her to die soon,” the doctor says with resignation.

Here he comes again, his hands covered in heavy black mittens, his head stuffed into a net that makes him look like a beekeeper, his legs and wrists closed in shackles.

Clark County Detention Center officers dress him this way because he has been known to spit, throw punches and kick.

The inmate shuffles through a sliding door, a large officer follows and, nearby, other members of the jail staff step back, as if sensing danger. The inmate, seemingly unaware, tells the officer, “I don’t want a plane crashing into me, you know.” The detention officer nods and nudges him toward an isolation cell, where the inmate will have to remove his clothes. He will be left with what’s known as a suicide blanket, which can’t be torn apart and used as a noose.

He is not yet 20, but he has been in jail three times, for 71 days, since coming of age last year.

The detention center’s chief psychiatrist, Keith Courtney, says the young man has what’s known as reactive attachment disorder. Those who suffer from the condition have trouble relating to others. It’s often a sign of early abuse.

The inmate who was moved into the isolation room doesn’t take medication for his condition when he is on the streets, but he does take illegal drugs. Then he gets in trouble and is locked up, mostly for crimes such as burglary, attempted robbery with a deadly weapon. In jail, he throws feces, attacks the staff. So he goes to one of the isolation rooms, for inmates who are a danger to themselves or others.

On a recent morning, the 19-year-old was one of 621 inmates at the detention center — of 3,066 total — diagnosed as mentally ill and prescribed psychotropic medications. That’s one in five. On some days, the ratio is closer to one in four.

By way of comparison, the state’s Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas has space for 204 patients.

So the jail, Courtney notes, is “the largest mental health facility in Southern Nevada.”

It is also the most expensive and least effective. Providing mental health care is not the purpose of a jail, after all.

The last hope for help

Nevada has always lagged other states in numbers of public psychiatric hospitals and clinics. But private hospitals in the Las Vegas Valley began closing their psychiatric wings in the 1980s. Jails have become the last hope for help, leading to a cycle of futility.

Psychologically troubled people who commit crimes are brought to the jail, where they are held, evaluated and medicated — and eventually returned to the streets, where they either stop taking the drugs that eased their troubles in jail or lose access to those drugs. Ongoing, intensive therapy is even more scarce. Their minds unravel again, they commit new crimes, go back to jail and the cycle continues.

The word for a system like this is “crazy.”

To be sure, Nevada is not alone in experiencing this problem. Most states closed public mental hospitals in recent decades, leaving many mentally ill patients to fend for themselves. The valley had none to close when this was happening, but the same thing occurred with private hospitals. Many states, however, have taken steps to break the cycle of crime, jail, treatment and release. Nevada has not.

The county spends $4 million a year on psychiatric treatment at the jail. It costs taxpayers $142 a day to keep an inmate at the jail and $85 on average to medicate each one diagnosed as mentally ill.

The inmate in the isolation room, for example, has cost the system at least $32,000 in the past year alone, which easily could have paid for his psychiatric care outside of prison.

Other costs, such as the cost society pays for their crimes, are harder to figure.

For many of the mentally ill behind bars, the doctor says, “there is a significant connection between their mental illness and their crimes.”

Courtney says most of the inmates with mental illnesses aren’t locked up long enough to get adequate care. And there is almost nowhere to send them outside the detention center’s walls. So their conditions will likely lead them to commit more crimes and be arrested again and again.

The result: Nevada taxpayers spend untold millions on incarcerating and temporarily caring for the mentally ill, the public suffers their crimes, and the mentally ill suffer their conditions, their lives becoming one long sentence in a prison of the mind.

Courtney points out that only four members of his staff of 13 can prescribe medications, a difficult situation when they are faced with hundreds of inmates. He notes that the most severely mentally ill among the prison’s population are “some of the sickest people in the city.” They are bipolar, schizophrenic, paranoid, delusional. In the absence of adequate care, many medicate themselves on the streets with drugs such as methamphetamine, or cocaine.

A rare case of success

Down a series of halls, in an auditorium-sized open room, some inmates shuffle around the 74 cots lined in rows. Others sit at a table playing cards or pop in and out of an adjacent room with a basketball hoop. About 20 of the 74 men who sleep in this unit are on psychotropic medications.

Down more halls, around more corners, another unit has separate cells with doors, a sign that the inmates housed there have more severe mental illnesses. A young, bearded inmate stands outside his cell, hand outstretched. He is in jail because, in a psychotic rage, he attacked a member of his family with a knife. “I thought people were trying to kill me,” he explains, slumping into a chair, his hands held together.

The soft-spoken inmate’s case appears to be the rare example of a mentally ill person’s life taking a turn for the better inside the system. Courtney has landed him one of the few spots in the Eighth District’s Mental Health Court, a program to substitute treatment for incarceration. The road that led to the mental health court, however, is typical of the path many have taken, slipping in and out of treatment, in and out of drugs, increasingly violent. Now barely out of his teens, the inmate took LSD when he was 17 and began hearing voices shortly afterward. He wound up at Monte Vista, a private psychiatric hospital, where he was an inpatient for a week and an outpatient for a month. But the medication that doctors prescribed knocked him out. He stopped taking it. He took cocaine instead. The voices got worse. He went back to a psychiatrist. But after one visit, he was at home and the voices started up again.

“I thought that what I was thinking was real,” he says calmly. Now, after a year behind bars, he says, “I didn’t get help until I got here.” The doctors at the jail worked through two prescriptions until they found a third medication that finally helped stabilize his mind.

And just as important, Courtney worked to develop a relationship with the young man. Recently, the inmate spoke to his mother for the first time since he was arrested.

Courtney hopes that when the young man gets out of jail, he gets into a Salvation Army-run program that includes group therapy. He has plans to attend college.

The inmate says he is certain of one thing. “I’m going to have to take medication for the rest of my life. If I don’t, it all comes slowly back.”

He says he wishes it was easier for people like him to get help, to know when something is really wrong.

Courtney says his case is an example of “when the system works right, when someone who’s mentally ill can be diverted to care in the community. But in my mind, he’s the minority.” Especially, he notes, because the Mental Health Court only has 75 slots.

A need for prevention

Metro Police Lt. Frank Reagan works at the detention center and serves as chairman of a coalition of mental health professionals that recently regrouped after several years of not meeting. At the beginning of its first meeting last month, Reagan urged the coalition to seek solutions to the large number of mentally ill inmates.

Reagan adds that public mental health care — the only choice for most inmates when they’re released because they lack health insurance — is often placed on the chopping block when states suffer budget crises — and based on what he sees at the jail, that’s a major mistake.

“We need to have preventive care, to maintain the mentally ill population as stable when they’re out of custody,” he says.

Stuart J. Ghertner, outpatient services agency director at Southern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services, says the state agency’s budget has been cut 15 percent this year. He points out that there tends to be two broad categories of people who wind up in jail instead of in treatment, and neither can find adequate care in the state system or the community at large.

One group usually has less severe conditions, such as depression, is often homeless and winds up arrested for such misdemeanors as trespassing or urinating in public.

Courtney had just seen a 70-year-old homeless man on the morning the Sun was allowed into the jail. The elderly man repeatedly gets arrested for such petty crimes and has nowhere to get treatment once he is released.

Ghertner’s other group winds up in the same unit as the inmate who attacked a member of his family, or in one of the isolation rooms. They suffer more severe mental illnesses and commit more severe crimes. Of course, the notion is a moving target, and the same person can belong to each group at different times.

But the point is the same, Ghertner says: The Las Vegas Valley doesn’t have enough hospital beds for the mentally ill, and the outpatient system is imperfect at best. Of the 8,000 outpatient clients the state sees at its four clinics, about 15 percent are homeless, he says.

“They lose contact with what care and services are available. These folks don’t always make appointments.” Then they “get in trouble on the streets” and wind up back in jail.

The more severely mentally ill with histories of violence also lack options. Many of them are also addicted to drugs or alcohol, “co-occurring disorders.” The state recently contracted with a private firm to open the first facility for treating the two problems together, but it has only 10 slots.

Rosanna Esposito, interim executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center, an Arlington, Va.-based nonprofit organization, said one key way Nevada lags most of the nation is that it has yet to pass a law that would allow family or doctors to petition a special court to mandate outpatient treatment for mentally ill people with a history of avoiding treatment. The idea is to have a way to force people into treatment before they commit crimes or hurt themselves or others. Variations on this have become law in 43 states, and those laws have helped get people off the justice system treadmill and into clinics.

Many states passed their laws at least a decade ago, so Nevada “is far behind the curve,” Esposito says.

Lesley R. Dickson, past president and current treasurer of the Nevada Psychiatric Association, points to another ignominy: Nevada has 6.2 psychiatrists per 100,000 people, a rate that places the state 46th in the nation, the governor’s task force on health noted earlier this year.

So the state starts at a disadvantage because “we have nowhere near enough care,” Dickson says.

Whether it is through funding more hospitals, clinics or psychiatrists, making better use of existing services, or passing laws that mandate care, a consensus is building that communities must seek alternatives to incarcerating the mentally ill. The June issue of Psychiatric Services magazine focused on the issue and concluded, “jailing is failing people with mental illness.”

Ghertner belongs to the same local coalition as Reagan, but he is skeptical about the group having enough clout to effect the necessary budgetary or legislative change in Nevada.

“The movers and shakers need to get organized … and sit down and do some long-range planning,” he says.

Esposito is sharper-edged. “We know that treatment works,” she says. “It’s only because of a lack of will and due to bad policy that the treatment isn’t available.”

No change

This letter or essay was taken over from Nevada Prisoner Voice:

The news of the legislators failing to arrest corruption in Nevada prison is not surprising. And I doubt they will until their hands are forced. Either by public outcry, or something else. Were they to start drug testing for guards (inmates are regularly tested) half would quit before the ink dried.

I believe you may have misunderstood some things I wrote you last. Trust I know more than most we can’t do anything without you on the outside. I say the future of prison and judicial reform lies with the convicts themselves, because there are so few of you out there who care.

Society views us as permanent outcasts. There is no interest in us redeeming or educating ourselves. Indeed the state officials, fear mongers they are, say to society that we will only misuse our knowledge, if allowed to educate ourselves to our natural impulses. The reality is that it is they who are afraid. That if we educate ourselves on the truth, we will tear down these walls, put an end to this mad house of misery and pain.

As technologically advanced as we are, we are not an enlightened society. We are a society filled with anger and hatred, built on insecurities.

Nothing happening now is new. England’s penal history gives us a clear view of where we are headed. Poor people desperate to feed their families getting their hands chopped off for stealing a loaf of bread. Today, instead of chopping off our heads, because that wouldn’t be profitable, they’re handing out life sentences like it’s nothing. And the more laws we create the more corrupt we become. Our job, our obligation, those of us who know and can see the truth, is to help people realize no matter how much time in prison you give a person, if the conditions do not change, if the convict remains uneducated, unskilled and unloved, his/her return to crime/prison is inevitable.

The only real solution to crime is judicial/prison reform and early prevention. Putting an end to the disparities in the education system. The quality education and programs available to children in affluent communities, and the lack there of in poor communities. A new curriculum to install pride and self worth based on good deeds rather than materialism, and appreciation for all peoples, encouraging leadership and innovation. Right now many young people, especially of color, can’t relate to what’s happening in the schools, which in reality is only giving them enough to be good workers for rich people. We have billions of dollars to bail out these fat cat corporations, and billions more to manufacture these bullshit wars/nation building. Then we have money to create more (relevant) programs for young people in the hood.

Fix this broken juvenile/foster care system. Give grants to community organizers, and more job training. These are the types of things that will cut down on crime free health care for our citizens, free education.

Being uneducated does not equal ignorance or lack of comprehension. Level of education does not determine a person’s worth. I know many men in these pens who have no education, but they are hungry to learn.

The question is who will teach them. It hurts my heart to see so many young people taught so many lies. That their worth in this world relies on the material. How to prey on each other rather than embrace each other. That our women are bitches, undeserving of respect or love. It hurts to know I am a citizen of the richest nation on earth. Living next to one of the poorest, an example of man’s cruelty to man. The people of Haiti are suffering horribly, and we do nothing. I noticed there were some new comments with the piece about the gang trial. Some of those comments are very telling to the ignorance and deep-seated hatred so many people carry inside. They need someone to blame, someone to feel better than. This is the psychosis of a capitalist society. Which is really an expression of man’s insecurities. Why would one man want more than he needs to live and provide for his family. Why do people create items of luxury that serve no purpose other than to scream out, “I have more than you, I am better than you.” The machine spits out misinformation, and by the insecurities of man, his ignorance, he is manipulated.

Ely State prison — a.k.a. — “the cemetery,” is the worst prison in Nevada. There is no regular every day pissing on the guards. The convicts here do not condone such vile acts. On the rare occasions when it does happen, more than not it’s an act of desperation. Locked behind these doors 24/7 the guards feel free to disrespect and dehumanize these men. Just in the time I’ve been in the unit I’ve lost all contact with my daughter because the guards are too lazy to pass out the phone. And if you complain, well, you don’t get the phone or anything else. I could write you a laundry list of all the games and psychological bullshit these guards do every day, that we must deal with.

For those ignorant enough to say well that’s what you deserve for breaking the law, well, I’m in prison for something I didn’t do. But that’s irrelevant. My response is this: just as we are men, we are human beings. When you treat human beings like animals, in time they will begin to act as such. And what happens to the sadistic boy who teases the tiger in its cage. Pokes it with his stick, throws rocks and firecrackers. To the boy it’s only a game. But when the tiger leaps the walls of its cage, then we all learn it’s not a game. People must realize these are human beings were talking about. Most of them will get out of prison one day. And when that day comes, who do you want to see, the man or the tiger. So the people should be concerned what’s happening in these prisons, how these men (human beings) are being treated. Prison is their punishment, not death by 1000 cuts, or medical neglect, or to be driven to insanity.

Imagine the madness it takes for a man to handle his own feces, to collect his own urine, and to mix this vile concoction together and throw it on somebody. Imagine the desperation. Again, this does not happen often. And if we were not locked in the cells 24/7, it would not happen at all. The older convicts wouldn’t allow it. But when it does happen, just like any other act of violence against prison staff, 99.9% of the time it is “not” unprovoked.

Corruption among the guards. Many of them who participate in gang activities or show sympathies toward white racist groups like the skinheads, etc. They were not somehow brainwashed or recruited. They came into the job with that. And they don’t smuggle in drugs out of fear or coercion. They do it out of greed! A house and nice car aren’t enough. They want a bigger house, nicer car, the latest high-powered rifle to hunt and kill defenseless animals for sport. They talk about it every day, what animals they killed, their guns, the latest thing to dress up their trucks. In the worst economy in our lifetime these guards have good paying, secure jobs. But all they do is complain all day and sit on their asses. I’ve never seen people get so much for so little and complain about it. Not that there are no decent people working in these prisons. But they are often manipulated by the us versus them argument. When they do tell the truth or speak out on behalf of the inmates, they end up either fired or ostracized.

Marritte Funches 37050
P. O. Box 1989
Ely, NV. 89301

P. S.
Peace is not the absence of trouble.

July 2009 Meeting of the Board of State Prison Commissioners

July 14 2009 Meeting of the Board of State Prison Commissioners

Date/Time of Meeting: Tuesday, July 14, 2009 at 2:00 p.m.
Meeting Location:
State Capitol Building
2nd floor
101 N. Carson Street
Carson City, NV

Annex Video Conference:
Grant Sawyer State Office Bldg.
Room 5100
555 East Washington Ave.
Las Vegas, NV

I Call to Order.
*II. Acceptance and Approval of Minutes – April 14, 2009.
III. Report on Legislative Approved FY 10/11 Budget and legislation affecting the Department of Corrections – Howard Skolnik, Director.
*IV. Discussion/possible action on the impact of the unpaid furlough policy on the Dept of Corrections and waiver request to Board of Examiners – Howard Skolnik, Director
V. Presentation on the VERA Institute of Justice – Howard Skolnik, Director & Michela Bowman, Project Director, VERA Institute
*VI. Discussion/possible action on a partnership between the Department of Corrections and the VERA Institute of Justice’s Corrections Support & Accountability Project – Howard Skolnik, Director
*VII. Discussion/possible action regarding State Administrative Regulations (Attachment 1)-Howard Skolnik, Director.
VIII. Public Comment.
*IX. Adjournment.

* Denotes items on which the Board may take action. Any agenda item may be taken out-of-order. It is within the Board’s discretion to allow Public Comment on agenda items. Public Comment may be limited to five minutes per speaker. Members of the public are encouraged to submit written comments for the record.

We are pleased to make reasonable accommodations for attendees with disabilities. Please notify Anne Della Rosa at (775) 684-5708. Notice of this meeting was posted in Carson City at the Nevada State Library, Nevada State Capitol Building, Nevada State Legislative Building and the Grant Sawyer State Office Building in Las Vegas; and at www.nvsos.gov and www.doc.nv.gov.