In Nevada, "mandatory" parole release is really just a suggestion

Lock ’em up and throw away the key
by AMY KINGSLEY
In: Las Vegas City Life
May 13, 2010

The southern half of the Nevada Parole Board meets in a conference room in east Las Vegas — where they sit behind a long table, addressing a high definition flat screen.

Video technology and the Internet allow them to order up cases from across the state. Today, the television is tuned to the Northern Nevada Correctional Center, a medium-security prison in Carson City.

Gerald Hudson shuffles to a chair in the center of the screen. The 40-year-old inmate holds a jumbo envelope containing the last two years’ accomplishments. He recites its contents: GED, high school diploma, another diploma from a substance abuse program and a completion certificate from victim awareness. He pauses and addresses his crime. “I’ve lost so many years for this,” Hudson says. “Alcohol caused me to act on impulse. I’ve had time to think about the consequences and the people I hurt.”

Hudson is appearing before the board for his second and final time, after serving more than three years for his first felony offense — endangerment and inflicting mental harm on a child. This is his mandatory parole release hearing, which is required by state law.

The goal is to give offenders with sentences of three years or longer one final shot at supervised release. Inmates are supposed to go before the board four months before the final year of their sentence. Good time credits for education and substance abuse treatment usually move the release date closer to six months before the end of the sentence. It’s part of an effort to get more prisoners out of prison and into some kind of community supervision. Ideally, these inmates will have used their time behind bars to better themselves and reflect on their crimes. Parole gives them the opportunity to prove they’ve learned their lesson, with consequences for failure.

Otherwise, inmates finish their sentences inside. They get “dumped,” in prison parlance. When their sentences end, they leave with $21 and a bus ticket. They go back to the streets, with no supervision and no structure. Hudson seems like a model candidate for parole release. After he was denied in his first parole hearing, the inmate turned over a new leaf. His release plan is so detailed it even includes the specific psychiatric center where he plans to continue counseling.

But it’s not necessarily a slam dunk. The parole commissioners determine that Hudson is a moderate risk to re-offend due to the nature of his crime. And they’re charged with making sure he doesn’t — at least not on their watch. Whatever decision these three commissioners make will be sent to the full board for ratification. At least four votes are required for parole.

“Regardless of what we do here today, you are going to get out,” says Commissioner Michael Keeler. “And our primary concern is public safety.”

Hard case

Nevada has always been a tough place for felons. The state has some of the stiffest sentences in the country, and one of the lowest rates of granting parole. The combination fueled explosive growth in the prison population during the late ’90s and early ’00s, a period when the violent crime rate actually dropped.

Even when the state had money, it couldn’t keep up with the demand for prison beds. So legislators decided to do something about it. They created an expert panel on sentencing, and concocted a few solutions. One of them, Assembly Bill 510 in the 2007 Legislature, increased the amount of credit inmates received for completing education and other programs. Before the bill, the parole board had a lot of leeway to count credits — and could take them away if parole was denied. That caused a great deal of angst among inmates, who never knew whether the board would honor their efforts to improve.

“There was a certain degree of morale factor with inmates who had gotten diplomas or GEDs,” said state Sen. David Parks, who was an assemblyman in 2007 and chairman of the committee that introduced AB 510. “They wouldn’t get their good time credits. We wanted to make it so once you earn them, you don’t get to lose them.”

Legislators like Parks wanted to encourage inmates to get an education. And they also wanted to ease the strain on prisons. The law had its intended effect. After its passage, the prison population leveled off, and even began to shrink. Members of the parole board said it hasn’t had any effect on recidivism. Most of the inmates paroled under the new guidelines fare as well as those released under the old, subjective system.

Read the rest here.

See also: The Crime Report (May 26, 2010)

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Meeting of the Board of Parole Commissioners

Meeting of the Board of Parole Commissioners
Friday May 28, 2010, beginning at 3.30 PM.

Location

Board of Parole Commissioners
1677 Old Hot Springs Rd #A,
Carson City, NV 89706

Video Conference:

Parole Board Office
4000 S. Eastern Ave,
Suite 130
Las Vegas, NV 89119

On the agenda is the 2009 Comprehensive Review of the Parole Board’s Risk Instrument.

(click on ill. to enlarge)

NNCC: Prison’s biomass plant to be locked up

From: Bio Energy News

24 May 2010

Costing in the region of $8.8 million (€7.1 million) and developed with the aim of slashing the US-based Northern Nevada Correction Center’s utility bills, Nevada’s first biomass project has been deemed unsuccessful.

The biomass plant burns wood for the generation of heat and power. It was originally thought that it would be able to heat all of the water used at the prison, as well as produce enough power to reduce the centre’s monthly electricity bills of $40,000. Any excess electricity would be sold to NV Energy.

However Howard Skolnik, the director at NNCC has explained that the power producing facility ‘doesn’t pencil out’ in the future and if a buyer cannot be found by the summer of this year, the plant will be closed. ‘The original design was just not large enough to make it truly profitable in the long term,’ he said.

However some believe that the plant, of which $6.5 million was provided by the state, should not be shut as it utilises tonnes of forest waste that could otherwise cause catastrophic forest fires on the Sierra Front and Tahoe Basin.

Another problem facing the plant is the question of who will man it. In the original proposal it was stated that the prison inmates would operate it but Jeff Mohlenkamp, the deputy director at CCNN, has come forward and explained that the plant is too high-tech and complicated for this to become a reality. Mohlenkamp remarked: ‘But that doesn’t mean the technology and the concept is a bad thing. It’s a lesson learned. It doesn’t mean plants like this can’t be successful.’

See also Las Vegas Sun

The horror show that is Ely State Prison

I am an inmate at Ely State Prison (ESP) and have been for the last 9 years. I wanted to write and inform you about some of the horror show that is Ely State Prison. You can´t imagine the utter and absolute horror show this prison really is on the inside.

Here is an example from about 6 to 8 weeks ago. Officers went to a lock down unit to get a hot pot from an inmate. He refused to give it to them (this was on a Saturday: no wardens). So they extracted him. When other inmates began to yell at the officers for their extraction method, the number of officers grew and they did 6 to 8 more unnecessary extractions that sent 4 or 5 inmates out of the prison to the hospital in town to get treatment for their injuries. The lieutenant (Minik or Minnick) from that shift was fired about a week or so later. The shift sergeant from that shift (Bryant) was also the squad sergeant in charge of the Redman extraction that resulted in his death.

People in here die on a fairly regular basis. About three months ago a guy in unit 5 was beaten so bad over the course of 3 days by his cellie that he needed to be life-flighted out of here.

I have lived in general population and held a job in here for the last 8 ½ years. As I´m sure you know unit 8 is the only open unit in the prison and it is where the “workers” live. At one time, about two months ago there were about 140 workers. The administration is now in the process of getting that number down to 94 and housing all of us on one wing of unit 8 and locking down the other half.

Now I´m not sure if you know how this prison was designed, but to really understand, I´ll quickly explain. There are 8 units here, 4 units are considered general population, they are on one side of the prison; units 5, 6, 7 and 8. They each have an A and a B wing with 48 cells, 24 downstairs and 24 right above upstairs. Each wing was designed to house 48 people. Long ago, they put a second bunk in the 3 thru 24 cells (cells 1 and 2 are medical singles) that brought the number of inmates to 72 a unit.

About 3 ½ years ago they put second bunks in cells 25 thru 48, now they cram 94 inmates into a unit. In the lock down units it makes it loud and the stale air is brutal as well as the heat. In unit 8 as in the other units there are only 4 showers, 2 telephones and tables for 48 people to sit. Plus on the wall in the unit along with “no smoking” it says “Maximum occupancy 90,” which was probably put there by the Fire Marshall, but I´m sure the zero will be painted over and made into a four. That´s how they do things inside here. To start this process of getting down to 94 workers they have changed the times we are allowed out of our cells… well they actually took time away from us. See the pages I enclosed.

Here is another example. Some time ago an inmate sued the prison (ESP), because it was not handicap-accessible. After he won and the prison got some grant money to fix some things, they took the non-handicap accessible urinal off the “main yard.” So now there is no urinal on the yard. The officers here now look the other way while people urinate in an outside drain by the trash compactor. They will not let people go into the gym or back into the unit and then back out again. So if you want to stay outside you basically have to break the law.

Here is another policy that was started because people here and also at High Desert (HDSP) started refusing to live with someone in a lock down situation that has no end, for the main reason that it becomes very dangerous. They force you to live with people, especially here at ESP, in a small cell where you never have any time to yourself. They don´t tell you if the other person has HIV, Hep C or mental problems. The number of cell fights they have here at Ely is unreal. And until both inmates come to the door and get handcuffed, the officers will not enter a cell. So you could be getting your head split open and all they will do is gas the cell with pepper spray. And when under normal conditions if one person or both are leaving the cell, both people have to get handcuffed first. Well, on a regular basis one person will wait until his cellie gets cuffed first, then attack, because they know the officers won´t come into the cell until he cuffs up also. It makes for a very dangerous situation.

So in response people were refusing to cell with another person in a lock down situation and would go to the hole. Well since so many people were doing this, they changed the rules so that now you get none of your appliances for the first 60 days in the hole, then you petition for 1 appliance, and then 1 more, in another 60 days. Yet they can take them if you break any rules. If they don´t like you, you´ll never have your appliances.

Like I´ve said, you can´t imagine the horror show ESP really is on the inside.

Received per mail on May 20th 2010

Former inmate speaks on CA prisoners abuse series

While reading the Sacramento Bee prison abuse series (9-10 May 2010), I was forced to recall the stretch I served in solitary confinement while incarcerated in the Michigan Department of Corrections. The series reveals some horrible abuses of inmates in California’s prisons, many of which mirror the units we have here in Michigan.

One of the more troubling findings is the lack of redress for prisoners who have been mistreated. When a prisoner’s grievance process is meaningless, or when the grievance is simply never processed, there is no good resolution. Either the prisoner must accept the abuse or find an alternative method of registering his complaint. Often, the alternative method does not work out well.

Beginning my ten-year run in solitary, I was placed next to an inmate called “Brown Dog” who endured the “gas and a cell rush” about three times a week, mostly out of boredom. (By “gas and a cell rush,” I mean a correction officer shooting massive quantities of pepper spray into the cell, opening the door, then a rush of five or six officers – all geared up in helmets, chest protectors, shin shields, and arm padding – who would tackle, twist, and restrain the inmate.) Brown Dog had numerous sheets of paper hanging outside of his cell which I found out later listed restrictions of many sorts. He was not allowed paper in his cell. The water for his toilet/sink fixture was shut off. He was not allowed the three weekly showers everyone else was allowed. He was not allowed to go outside at all, and he was on food loaf, where everything from the meal – say, for instance, ham, yams, two slices of bread, butter, an orange, and red Kool-aid – are blended together into a puree, then baked into a “loaf”. I wondered why he would continue to cause more trouble. “I’m on detention for five more years, and I’ve got nothing better to do,” he’d tell me. Certainly, he had nothing at all to do. He was not allowed anything.

In the many years that followed, I learned how people came to dig such deep holes. Many times I saw simple problems mushroom. If a dinner tray lacked an item, the inmate would request a replacement. If the officer replaced the item, everyone was happy. Sometimes, however, the officer would not. The inmate would ask to speak to the sergeant. The officer would not tell the sergeant. So when the officer came around to pick up the trays, the inmate would refuse to return his tray in an attempt to get the sergeant up onto the cellblock. By this time, of course, the sergeant would come, but he would bring with him the rush squad and a can of pepper spray. Instead of the replacement food item, the inmate received food-loaf for seven, 14, even 30 days.

I don’t know what started Brown Dog down that long road that he traveled, but I have always wondered how many cases such as his could have been stopped if one person had attempted to solve the problem rather than simply resort to force. I don’t pretend that guards are mostly bad and inmates are mostly good. Real life is rarely as simple as that. But many of the problems that crop up in prison could be resolved if the parties involved would muster the effort to try to understand each other. Oft-times, however, those with authority simply choose force.

If we demanded better dispute resolution skills of the officials, we not only might see less need for isolation units but also better outcomes for inmates when they leave. I believe the only way we can achieve that, however, is to improve oversight of those officials we vest with so much power over inmates. The Bee investigation supports this conclusion. And if inmates found that they could achieve a reasonable solution through a grievance procedure instead of having their grievances discarded or ignored, they may choose that route instead of the gas and cell rush method.

By Peter Martel
Criminal Justice Program Associate
American Friends Service Committee
1414 Hill Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
Office: 734-761-8283, ext 2

Nevada houses 10 times more people with mental illness in jails than in psychiatric facilities

New Report: Jail More Likely Than Treatment For Americans With Psychiatric Disorders

From: Disability Scoop
By Michelle Diament
May 13, 2010

Americans with severe mental illness are three times more likely to go to prison than to a psychiatric hospital, new research indicates.

While the likelihood varies by state, there is no state where individuals experiencing diagnoses like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are more likely to be in a psychiatric hospital than a jail, the findings from a new report conducted by the Treatment Advocacy Center and the National Sheriffs’ Association indicate.

The best case scenario appears to be in North Dakota where the odds are one to one that a person with mental illness will be in prison or a psychiatric hospital. In contrast, Arizona and Nevada each host 10 times more people with mental illness in their jails than in psychiatric facilities.

Read more here

Report by the Treatment Advocacy Center (PDF).

Nevada houses 10 times more people with mental illness in jails than in psychiatric facilities

New Report: Jail More Likely Than Treatment For Americans With Psychiatric Disorders

From: Disability Scoop
By Michelle Diament
May 13, 2010

Americans with severe mental illness are three times more likely to go to prison than to a psychiatric hospital, new research indicates.

While the likelihood varies by state, there is no state where individuals experiencing diagnoses like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are more likely to be in a psychiatric hospital than a jail, the findings from a new report conducted by the Treatment Advocacy Center and the National Sheriffs’ Association indicate.

The best case scenario appears to be in North Dakota where the odds are one to one that a person with mental illness will be in prison or a psychiatric hospital. In contrast, Arizona and Nevada each host 10 times more people with mental illness in their jails than in psychiatric facilities.

Read more here

Report by the Treatment Advocacy Center (PDF).

Information about "Security Threat Groups", AR 446 and how this is used to keep prisons locked down

Received per email in May of 2010.

Greetings once again to all families, friends and those concerned,

I come before you to bestow some pertinent information in hopes of providing you with some insight as to why your loved ones are being segregated, locked down and/or in some cases living in fear. This presentation will cover what are known as Security Threat Groups and Disruptive Groups; and how these labels are being misused and abused by Ely State Prison officials.

HISTORY: In October 1999 the NDOC developed it’s first Security Threat Group (STG) Identification and Management Regulation, Information Bulletin #99-05(I.B. #9905). Thereafter I.B. #9905 was superceded by Administrative Regulation (AR 446) which became effective on November 10, 1999. AR 446 has been modified six times since then (May 8, 2002, January 20, 2003, May 5, 2004, June 7, 2004, and August 14, 2009). You can view AR 446 and OP 446 on the NDOC web site here.

What is AR 446?: The NDOC asserts that AR 446 is an Identification Regulation used to manage Security Threat Groups within the NDOC. In all actuality and from a legal standpoint the classification guidelines of the AR 446 are vague and over-broad. The NDOC, more specifically Ely State Prison, selectively applies the usage of this AR with underground regulations so as to keep ESP locked down and to retain specific groups/individuals from advancement. The most troubling part of it all is that this Gestapo tactic is being utilized to make inmates become prison informants. This has caused inmates to fabricate information about other inmates in order to advance in the level system in hopes of a transfer. This weapon (AR 446) allows prison officials to manipulate inmates so to keep the inmates at each other’s throats.

One cannot deny that “gangs” do exist, but the AR does not state that inmates are to be locked down or segregated. When you first arrive to the NDOC and ESP you have to live with someone…and you would prefer to live with an inmate with whom you have something in common, be it race/state/city/community/religion/ideological beliefs etc. Who you choose is who you will be classified with. Inmates are asked by prison officials: Where are you from? Who do you run with? Your answers are being used as a self-proclamation as a gang member.

What To Know: You are being labeled without due process. AR446 bases its gang identification process under Nevada Revised Statute (NRS) 193.168, which is the state’s gang enhancement statute. In order to be convicted and sentenced under this statute, you must be found guilty of committing a “felony for the sole purpose of benefitting the gang.” That is the law. They cannot validate you as a STG/DG unless you exhibit behavior and/or are committing acts inside the prison that support the gang you are accused of being a part of.

Inmates must understand how serious the STG label is. Within the past 5 years the STG label has significantly influenced the outcome of inmate parole hearings. Two points are added to your parole score with this label.

Your Rights: Because two points are being added to your parole score and you more than likely (at ESP) are being denied a job/or transfer, you will receive additional points. You do not have a right to a job or to be paroled. You do have the right to a fair parole hearing and as long as you are in compliance with ESP’s rules and regulations you are to be advanced, thus eligible for a job. Most inmates don’t learn of their STG status until parole. To be validated without receiving documentation or being given the opportunity to contest these allegations is a violation of your due process rights. To not receive a six month full classification review in accordance to OP 501 and to not be given a legitimate reason for your denial is a violation.

Your prison stay is being extended and it imposes an atypical and significant hardship on you in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life. You can challenge the parole denial as well as the STG label.

How the NDOC and ESP are Violating Your Due Process Rights: Prison officials are labeling you as an STG without your knowledge. You are to receive NDOC form 1598 once you are suspected of being an STG. Then you are to receive an STG hearing. You cannot be an STG until after you have had a hearing. Prison officials are not providing inmates with the information being used against them. Common pieces of evidence being used include: nicknames, AKA yard names (I still am not aware how a nickname promotes felonies or disturbs a prison’s safety/security); tattoos (which are selectively applied); association; and inmates that say so. Prison officials will tell you the only way to have the STG label removed is to debrief.

Challenge the STG: Learn AR 446 and all of the NDOC’s AR’s and Op’s. Those on the outside must encourage your loved ones to learn their prisoner’s rights. Association does not mean you are committing felonies. The court already punished you for your crimes; therefore, as long as you are abiding by the OP’s and AR’s you should not be segregated or locked down.

Prison Officials are Forcing Inmates to Debrief: You have a right to a fair hearing and to challenge your STG, parole and disciplinary hearings. Guys are lying to receive privileges and this must stop. Do not succumb to the coercion of prison officials for they will bleed you dry. There is no AR or OP stating you are to be retained at ESP indefinitely nor that you can’t advance. Inmates must come together and enforce their rights.

Readers: Please encourage your loved ones to not become stagnant or complacent in their cells and to use all resources they have access to. They must open their own eyes and see that ESP officials are using the STG label as a tool to keep ESP operating as a de facto supermax. This tool has increased tension amongst inmates, caused more deaths, contributed to and increased mental illnesses, and has effectively destroyed family relationships. How does this serve the public’s safety? Do you think confinement in segregation will develop one’s communication skills with others? Guys will be released with no family support, thus feeling alone as if still in prison. More mentally ill inmates will be released to society dependent on medication and therapy…

The NDOC is NOT honoring its commitment to serve the public’s safety and this should cause you to worry about this state’s future. Inmates must not accept no as an answer! Use the law library, request what you are entitled to, utilize the grievance procedure and appeal process. Support our prisoners!

Remember: You are only defeated when you give up.

Respectfully,
Liberator

If you have comments about this article, you can send an email to: contactliberator@yahoo.com

Abuse and Cover-Up in California Prisons’ “Behavior Management Units”

A few days ago, the Sacramento Bee published its reports about prisoner abuse inside some of California’s prisons. In Nevada, NDOC’s secrecy, its unwillingness to respond to allegations of misconduct towards prisoners, the permanent status of locked down units, the serious lack of medical care and means to stay healthy, the violence done to prisoners, even while shackled, keeping someone naked for prolongued periods of time as a form of punishment, the lack of any meaningful programs, the threat to take away someone’s tv (often the last means of ‘contact with the world’ in an isolation cell), rules not kept by personell, the unspoken threat to break someone’s spirit and will to live, and many more inhumane living conditions are all too familiar to our readers too.

Our hope is that in Nevada investigative reporters will stand to the challenge and research and report too about the abuses done here in Nevada’s prisons, at tax payers'(yours, mine) cost, in name of “security”, and “budget cuts”, thereby crushing human dignity and the chance to correct, reform, and redeem a fellow human being, sister or brother, father or mother.

Here is SolitaryWatch’s story on the outcome of the Bee’s reporting:

From: SolitaryWatch:

May 12, 2010

The American prison system is rife with euphemistic acronyms for the places where inmates are held in solitary confinement: Our prisons contain SHUs, SMUs, ASUs, CCRs, and most recently CMUs.* Now, a powerful two-part expose by Charles Pillar in the Sacramento Bee shows what goes on inside the BMUs–the “Behavior Modification Units”–in several California prisons.

These units are supposed to combine SHU-style isolation and deprivation with a special program that includes classes in “life skills” like anger management, substance abuse treatment, and other measures to prepare troublesome prisoners to return to the general population, or to the outside. But the classes have been eliminated for cost reasons–if they ever existed at all–and what’s left is solitary confinement.

Some of the inmates’ ”behavior problems” undoubtedly resulted from untreated mental illness. Whatever their cause, these problems were unlikely to be improved by round-the-clock lockdown. And at some of the BMUs, inmates reportedly lived in particularly brutal conditions, in an environment where, according to the Sacramento Bee, “guards seemed to view behavior modification as a license to make inmates as miserable as possible to compel obedience.”

A Bee investigation into the behavior units, including signed affidavits, conversations and correspondence with 18 inmates, has uncovered evidence of racism and cruelty at the High Desert facility [in Susanville, CA]. Inmates described hours-long strip-searches in a snow-covered exercise yard. They said correctional officers tried to provoke attacks between inmates, spread human excrement on cell doors and roughed up those who peacefully resisted mistreatment.

Many of their claims were backed by legal and administrative filings, and signed affidavits, which together depicted an environment of brutality, corruption and fear.

Behavior units at other prisons were marked by extreme isolation and deprivation – long periods in a cell without education, social contact, TV or radio, according to inmate complaints and recent visits by The Bee. An inmate of the Salinas Valley State Prison behavior unit won a lawsuit last year to get regular access to the prison yard after five months without exercise, sunlight or fresh air.

The list of abuses reported by the prisoners goes on: “Some cells leaked in rainstorms, soaking mattresses, they said, and blankets and toiletries were routinely withheld. Birds trapped in the unit defecated in prisoners’ food trays, and prayer books and rugs were confiscated without recourse.” When they complained, inmates said, ”mistreatment escalated to threats and outright assault.”

Prisoners also alleged that racism played a role in their abuse, reporting that guards used racial slurs and referred to the BMU as the “black monkey unit.” One inmate who was marched down the corridor naked and in chains after a “cell extraction” said that he felt “like I just stepped off an auction block.”

Pillar’s articles document not just the abuses themselves, but the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s extensive efforts to ignore, discredit, or bury these abuses.

State prison officials have known about many of these claims since at least July 2008, when Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation social scientists sent to High Desert to assess the program reported allegations of abuse – including denial of medical care, racial slurs, gratuitous violence and destruction of protest appeals.

The Bee‘s investigation also revealed a broad effort by corrections officials to hide the concerns of prisoners and of the department’s own experts.

Inmates believe that the letters of complaint they wrote to the state inspector general and FBI were never sent out by the prison–and if they pressed the issue, they said, they were subject to retaliation. Several state researchers also say that corrections official told them to to keep quiet about the abuse allegations, and to downplay and bury them in official reports.

The articles deserve to be read in full–both part one and part two. And it looks like they may actually have some measurable impact: In a follow-up to its expose, the Sacramento Bee reported:

State prison officials said Monday that they had dramatically broadened their investigation of alleged racism and cruelty by guards at the High Desert State Prison in Susanville. The move came in response, officials said, to a Bee investigation published Sunday and Monday about claims of abuse of prisoners in a special behavior modification program.

Investigative reporting has proved instrumental to exposing conditions in solitary confinement in several other cases, as well–notably Lance Tapley’s reporting on the Maine State Prison SHU, and Beth Hundsdorfer and George Pawlaczyk’s series on Tamms Supermax in Illinois. The reporting has spurred official investigations, or even policy changes or legislative actions.

It looks like the American Friends Service Committee–which has long opposed the torture of solitary confinement–may be hoping the same thing will happen in California. On Monday, the Sacramento Bee reports, the AFSC “challenged California legislators to look into the abuse allegations–and pushed for the behavior units to be sharply restricted.” (You can read AFSC’s press release here.) And on Tuesday two state senators sent a letter to Arnold Schwarzenegger stating their intent to “fully examine these allegations,” and requesting an immediate briefing by the corrections department.

________________

* Security Housing Unit (or Special Housing Unit), Special Management Unit, Administrative Segregation Unit, Closed Cell Restricted, Communications Management Unit.

Nevada Prisons Find New Ways to Discourage Free Citizens from Communicating With People Locked Away In Concrete Cells

By Tony Black

During the difficult economic times when states are cutting education from our youth, the Nevada prison system seeks new and unsuspecting ways to maintain recidivism.

In recent months of 2010, the Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC) has implemented a new ‘operational procedure’ (O.P. 750.01; Incoming Mail) authorizing mailroom officers (guards working as pseudo postal employees) to refuse and return mail without notice to the inmate of the arrival of such mail. In some cases, inmates have waited months before learning that a letter from his/her child, spouse, parent or friend was refused and returned. In such a volatile, isolative environment, a letter, a picture or a card may be what settles the heart and mind of an inmate struggling to live a productive lifestyle within the human warehouse. But, despite this obvious circumstance, NDOC invents O.P. 750.01 as if to provoke additional heartache and hardship within the lives of the prisoners it keeps.

It was during 2009 when U.S. District Court Judge Hicks gave NDOC the green light to withhold the delivery of mail to Nevada’s state prisoners. Judge Hicks dismissed a civil complaint submitted by an inmate, concluding that, although frustrating for the inmate and free citizens involved, it would be too much work for mailroom officers to notify a prisoner each time a piece of mail was refused or returned. Hicks also denied the inmate’s declaration of being retaliated against by NDOC employees for filing his lawsuit against the Lovelock Correctional Center in Nevada which suggests to future inmate-litigants, that the US District Court won’t protect them from retaliation.

Hicks, while concluding that the case must be dismissed, added how there are no controlling cases to govern whether a prison can withhold delivery of mail to an inmate without notification. However, the U.S. Supreme Court made the law clear by requiring prisons to provide notice as a matter of Due Process; Procunier v. Martinez, 94 S Ct.1800, 416 U.S. 396 (1974). The decision of judge Hicks is in: Sikorski v. Whorton, 631 F. Supp 2d 1327 (D. Nev. 2009).

The venue of age old correspondence being carried by the US Postal Service (USPS) is progressively transcending into the digital work of the internet. And, rather than sending a letter through the USPS, an email can be sent. In fact, limited e-mail use is currently operating within the state prisons around the country. In the NDOC system, free citizens are permitted to e-mail inmates through a for-profit corporation known as JPay. For a fee, which in part goes to the NDOC, family, friends and so on can contact the inmate within a day. Hence, the time-consuming reliance upon the USPS and the probability of being refused by NDOC can all be avoided by turning to Jpay…

Several years ago, inmates would receive monetary gifts from their families or friends through checks or money orders that were sent to a designated bank and then placed on the accounts of the inmates. Then, NDOC inserted a new procedure that delayed depositing money into inmate accounts for up to one month. At the same time of this new procedure, NDOC introduced Jpay, boasting how monetary gifts would be transferred to inmate accounts within 72 hours, for a fee; which a portion of goes to the NDOC.

Indeed, Jpay’s email system has expanded to On-line visits in lieu of actual visits in some Florida prisons. Prison systems want the services of corporations like Jpay because, quite simply, privacy rights do not exists; that it’ll be completely legal for governmental agencies to closely inspect and utilize any and all information revealed within the e-mail and online communications. For the prison system, the absence of privacy is like a blessing for possible safety and security ideals. However, the consequence of such absence of privacy will be the limitations if not eliminations of communication between the free citizen and the inmate as such government intrusion goes too far.

For now, NDOC relies upon O.P. 750.01 to refuse and return mail without notice to an inmate. The justification, in most instances, concerns “tape” (Scotch tape, etc) on envelopes of incoming mail; tape that reasonable people use to prevent an unintentional opening of an envelope. “Tape” is also, however, applied by USPS employees when the seal on an envelope is broken and NDOC is aware of this fact. What this means is that NDOC is refusing and returning mail because of “tape” on the envelopes that was applied by the USPS rather than the sender who had complied with the no tape rule.

Imagine a free citizen sending a final letter to an inmate expressing farewell as he or she nears death. Then, as the letter travels via the USPS, the citizen passes away. Also, the USPS applies tape to the envelope while it’s on its way to the inmate. Once arriving at the prison, the letter is refused and returned to the sender who is no longer alive. This terrible situation has, and will continue to occur and can only be described as inhumane.

Recidivism is a national problem for the free citizen and taxpayer as inmates exit prison without the support of loved ones, family or friends to assist them in starting a new life. Such inmates leave prison with nowhere to go then, in many cases, return to crime creating new victims and wasting more taxpayer dollars as they reenter the system. It can only be obvious that to discourage free citizens from communicating with inmates that the prison system is actually strengthening the recidivism rates at state prisons.

O.P. 750.01 is another weapon and systematic method utilized by NDOC that ultimately dehumanizes the men and women it imprisons. Recidivism does indeed offer job security to those who accept employment within the industry of human warehousing so for that, and the tragic selfishness of the few employees, O.P. 750.01 serves its purpose.

The ACLU as well as the USPS has thus far neglected to protect the constitutional rights of free citizens and inmates. There is much more to be discussed regarding this crucial matter.

Please feel at liberty to inquire: tonyblack@gmail.com