ACLU: Democracy Tarnished in the Silver State

From ACLU Nevada
Jun 17th, 2011
Posted by Rebecca Gasca, ACLU of Nevada & Nicole Kief, ACLU

We had hoped that, amidst a sea of restrictive voting initiatives across the country, Nevada would be a beacon of light. But today, with a stroke of Gov. Brian Sandoval’s pen, the Silver State jumped on the voter suppression bandwagon.

Right now in Nevada, if you’re convicted of a felony, good luck figuring out how to get your voting rights back. The state’s absurdly complicated and overly punitive voter disfranchisement law bars an estimated 43,000 people with felony convictions from voting. (Across the country, these laws keep more than 5 million people out of the political process.)

If you get your hands on a copy of the ACLU of Nevada’s brochure (which needs two full pages to explain Nevada’s policy), you’ll learn that some people get their rights back when they finish their sentences, while others have to petition their courts of conviction for restoration. Those with federal convictions need — wait for it — presidential pardons in order to vote again.

Recognizing this mess, the legislature passed a bill to simplify and improve the state’s law, but Gov. Sandoval has just vetoed it. So much for expanding democracy.

Not only is Nevada’s disfranchisement law undemocratic, it’s a voter registrar’s nightmare. Indeed, when the ACLU of Nevada surveyed the 17 county clerk offices around the state, we found that not a single elections employee was able to provide a comprehensive answer to the question of whether people who had completed their felony sentences could vote.

If even the highly capable individuals charged with administering Nevada’s election laws are unable to comprehend all of the law’s twists and turns, how can we expect the voting public to understand it?

And it’s not just the ACLU and our ally the Brennan Center for Justice who recognize the need for change. In fact, the head of the American Probation and Parole Association testified that “full civic participation by citizens living in our community protects public safety…restoring the right to vote sends the message that ex-offenders are welcome as integral members of their home communities and helps invest them in our democracy.”

Shame on you, Gov. Sandoval. Investing people in our democracy is something we should all be able to get behind.

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AB93 signed: pilot program for selected nonviolent probation violators

Thanks to a correspondent for sending us this:

AB 93 was made law yesterday with Governor Sandoval’s signature. The law established a pilot program for selected nonviolent probation violators to enter treatment instead of high security prisons.

In the next two years there should be sufficient data to make this a larger program that could save the State of Nevada tens if not hundreds of millions in the long term–money that could be used for education and treatment.

AB 93 was favored by The League of Women Voters in Nevada, the Religious Alliance in Nevada (RAIN), the Progressive Alliance of Nevada (PLAN). The conservative SAGE Commission also called for a strong program to downsize prisons.

AB 136 vetoed by Sandoval: no help for non-violent prisoners

From LVRJ (Ed Vogel, June 16th 2011):

–Assembly Bill 136, which would have allowed certain felons to earn credits to reduce their sentences by acquiring vocational skills and passing drug treatment programs. Violent and sex offender would have been excluded. Nineteen of the 26 Republicans opposed the bill.

Sandoval said the bill would allowed “dangerous criminals to be prematurely released from prison” and increased the risk of Nevada citizens. He added the bill sent a message to offenders that the state was “soft on crime.”

–Senate Bill 188, which would have allowed prison wardens to establish 84-hour work schedules for correctional officers in each two-week pay period. Employees would have worked 12-hour shifts, three days one week, four the next. The prison employees union has been seeking these shifts for several years.

The governor said prison wardens already have the authority to experiment with variable work schedule, and 12-hour shifts have been considered.

“Senate Bill 188 unnecessarily encroaches upon managerial authority in an agency facing unique employment challenges and severe budgetary restraints,” Sandoval said.

Every senator, including 10 Republicans, voted for the bill, while 12 of the 16 Assembly Republicans opposed it.

Since most of the governor’s vetoes were made after the close of the Legislature at 1 a.m. June 7, votes by the Legislature to override his vetoes will not be made until the next session in 2013.

Before adjournment, legislative leaders decided not to conduct override votes on four vetoed bills. That means those bills officially are dead.
————–
Soft on crime? Nevada? This Bill was supposed to even exclude violent offenders. Has Gov Sandoval ever spoken with those who have been wrongly convicted? Or those who are stuck for years on end in a box with nothing to better themselves with? And does the governor think that people who committed a violent offense will rehabilitate themselves, be cured, be forgiven?

This Bill was even meant for those who have been convicted of a non-violent crime!

The risk to the Nevada citizens is that the people inside prisons are NOT reformed, are NOT able while inside to create a life away from joblessness, desperation, illnesses that are not (being) cured. Governor Sandoval creates more dangerous situations himself, plus those who opposed this bill.

Dear People, wake up and embrace those inside of good will and who want to be reformed, who ask for a change and who are willing to change. Punishing a person is not something we should do or tolerate for the rest of their lives. They must be reformed and cured and healed and returned to us. we must create the right environment here, and not wait ’til it is too late (when hatred has grown too much, or when death has arrived).

And for those inside on false convictions, false testimony, false witnesses, because of over-eager prosecutors, snitches, corrupt servants, surely there must come a day soon when this nightmare is over!

In strength, with Human decency and dignity…

Governor vetoes audit for costs of death penalty in Nevada

Sandoval’s veto tally at 10 bills
By Ed Vogel
Las Vegas Review-Journal
Posted: Jun. 8, 2011

CARSON CITY — As the Legislature was rushing to adjourn at 1 a.m. Tuesday, Gov. Brian Sandoval was doing what he has done with increasing regularity during the legislative session: vetoing bills.

Sandoval vetoed Assembly Bill 501, which would have required an audit on the costs of the death penalty …

In vetoing the death penalty audit, Sandoval said he was not convinced it would be a fair audit.

“The bill, for example, lists the costs to be assessed in determining the overall fiscal impact of the imposition of the death penalty, but it does not specify how it is these costs will be assessed,” the governor said.

Sandoval, a former state attorney general and federal judge, said that death row inmates make “individualized litigation choices” that drive up the costs of their cases.

Nearly 80 prisoners are on Nevada’s death row in the Ely State Prison.

Almost all Republican legislators voted against the two bills.

Read the rest and the pieces inbetween here.

Jail cuts could reduce capacity by half in North Las Vegas

By Brian Haynes and Lynnette Curtis
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL
Jun. 1, 2011

Faced with ever-deepening budget woes, North Las Vegas plans to cut its jail to just 400 beds, less than half of the 900-bed operation of a few years ago.

It’s a casualty of the economic realities facing Southern Nevada, but local judges worry the smaller jail means less room for the criminals they need to lock up.

“There are bad people we have to lock up,” Municipal Court Judge Warren VanLandschoot said Wednesday. “There’s a misconception that the Municipal Court just handles traffic tickets. But we get guys with 150 prior arrests. We’re able to keep that person off the street for five months. That’s a whole bunch of crime that’s not happening.”

At its May 17 meeting, the City Council voted 4-1 to close all but one of the jail’s dormitories and end a contract that guarantees up to 200 beds for federal prisoners. Even without the federal prisoners, which account for about 50 inmates a day, the city would be left with 200 beds for men and 200 beds for women.

Read the rest here.

—————
What about preventing crime?
What about rehabilitating prisoners to stop crime from happening?
What about stopping the “war on drugs”?

One person with 150 prior arrests? What is wrong with the system, Judge VanLandschoot?! You suggest preventing crime by locking up people? What do you think happens inside? Does crime stop when someone is locked up? Does not it take a little more than just locking up people, o Judge? What happens when someone leaves jail? What happens to your job when these cells are cut, Judge, and when crime falls?

What about investing in more jobs, better education, more mentoring?
Everything costs money, Judge, only the sun comes up for free…

Prisoner seeks to block plan to do away with kosher meals

We are all equal under the Constitution.

From: Vegas Inc.
By Steve Green
1 June 2011

Attorneys for a Nevada prison inmate filed an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order Wednesday in hopes of blocking the state Department of Corrections from carrying out a plan to stop serving kosher food to prisoners requesting it.

Attorneys for inmate Howard Ackerman say he’s an Orthodox Jew and that the state plans to discontinue kosher food service within all state prisons sometime this week or next week.

“This will interfere with the ability of Mr. Ackerman and similarly situated Orthodox Jews to be able to observe the tenets of their religion. This issue has been well litigated throughout the United States, including in this court, and it has been held time and time again, that such interference with a prisonerhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif’s right to kosher food is prohibited,” said the motion filed by attorneys Jacob Hafter and Michael Naethe.

The motion was filed in U.S. District Court for Nevada in Las Vegas, where attorneys for Ackerman earlier in the day filed suit against the state. The court had not acted on the request as of late Wednesday.

The lawsuit said Ackerman is a prisoner at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City.

Attorneys for the state had not responded to the suit as of late Wednesday.

————–
Here is the news in the Las Vegas Review Journal.

A quote from the attorney working on this case on behalf of the plaintiff:

Hafter said he understands the views of those who say people should not commit crimes if they do not want to lose their rights.

But, he responded, “Isn’t part of the purpose of being institutionalized to reform somebody?”

The lawyer said some people find religion in prison. He also said some people land in prison by unintentionally hurting someone or by being falsely accused.

“The real reason that I took this case is because what happens if, God forbid, I would wind up in prison or jail,” said Hafter, an Orthodox Jew.

“The fact of the matter is I would hope that I could practice my religious beliefs to the fullest extent that the Constitution allows.”

Hafter said Orthodox Jews believe that observance of the kosher dietary laws is “a divine commandment.”

“Judaism is a way of life,” he said. “We have laws that govern all of our actions … and no law is supposed to be more important than the other.”

Jail cuts could reduce capacity by half in North Las Vegas

By Brian Haynes and Lynnette Curtis
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL
Jun. 1, 2011

Faced with ever-deepening budget woes, North Las Vegas plans to cut its jail to just 400 beds, less than half of the 900-bed operation of a few years ago.

It’s a casualty of the economic realities facing Southern Nevada, but local judges worry the smaller jail means less room for the criminals they need to lock up.

“There are bad people we have to lock up,” Municipal Court Judge Warren VanLandschoot said Wednesday. “There’s a misconception that the Municipal Court just handles traffic tickets. But we get guys with 150 prior arrests. We’re able to keep that person off the street for five months. That’s a whole bunch of crime that’s not happening.”

At its May 17 meeting, the City Council voted 4-1 to close all but one of the jail’s dormitories and end a contract that guarantees up to 200 beds for federal prisoners. Even without the federal prisoners, which account for about 50 inmates a day, the city would be left with 200 beds for men and 200 beds for women.

Read the rest here.

—————
What about preventing crime?
What about rehabilitating prisoners to stop crime from happening?
What about stopping the “war on drugs”?

One person with 150 prior arrests? What is wrong with the system, Judge VanLandschoot?! You suggest preventing crime by locking up people? What do you think happens inside? Does crime stop when someone is locked up? Does not it take a little more than just locking up people, o Judge? What happens when someone leaves jail? What happens to your job when these cells are cut, Judge, and when crime falls?

What about investing in more jobs, better education, more mentoring?
Everything costs money, Judge, only the sun comes up for free…

Prisoner seeks to block plan to do away with kosher meals

We are all equal under the Constitution.

From: Vegas Inc.
By Steve Green
1 June 2011

Attorneys for a Nevada prison inmate filed an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order Wednesday in hopes of blocking the state Department of Corrections from carrying out a plan to stop serving kosher food to prisoners requesting it.

Attorneys for inmate Howard Ackerman say he’s an Orthodox Jew and that the state plans to discontinue kosher food service within all state prisons sometime this week or next week.

“This will interfere with the ability of Mr. Ackerman and similarly situated Orthodox Jews to be able to observe the tenets of their religion. This issue has been well litigated throughout the United States, including in this court, and it has been held time and time again, that such interference with a prisonerhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif’s right to kosher food is prohibited,” said the motion filed by attorneys Jacob Hafter and Michael Naethe.

The motion was filed in U.S. District Court for Nevada in Las Vegas, where attorneys for Ackerman earlier in the day filed suit against the state. The court had not acted on the request as of late Wednesday.

The lawsuit said Ackerman is a prisoner at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City.

Attorneys for the state had not responded to the suit as of late Wednesday.

————–
Here is the news in the Las Vegas Review Journal.

A quote from the attorney working on this case on behalf of the plaintiff:

Hafter said he understands the views of those who say people should not commit crimes if they do not want to lose their rights.

But, he responded, “Isn’t part of the purpose of being institutionalized to reform somebody?”

The lawyer said some people find religion in prison. He also said some people land in prison by unintentionally hurting someone or by being falsely accused.

“The real reason that I took this case is because what happens if, God forbid, I would wind up in prison or jail,” said Hafter, an Orthodox Jew.

“The fact of the matter is I would hope that I could practice my religious beliefs to the fullest extent that the Constitution allows.”

Hafter said Orthodox Jews believe that observance of the kosher dietary laws is “a divine commandment.”

“Judaism is a way of life,” he said. “We have laws that govern all of our actions … and no law is supposed to be more important than the other.”

Felon good time credits bill passes on reconsideration

May 31, 2011, Nevada Appeal:

The legislation to expand good time credits and get more felons out of Nevada’s prison system won legislative approval Monday.

But not without drama as, on the first vote in the Senate, Democratic Senator John Lee joined Republicans to defeat the bill allowing more categories of inmates to get good-time credits.

Category B felons can already get good-time credits to reduce their maximum sentences. AB136 would have allowed certain Category B felons to apply good-time credits to the minimum term of incarceration, which is already allowed for lesser categories of felon. Supporters say that will save the state money by getting those felons out of prison, which saves the state about $25,000 apiece each year.

With all Republicans and Lee opposed, AB136 failed 10-11 on the first vote. But on the second agenda shortly before 7 p.m., Lee moved to reconsider the action. On the revote, the bill passed 11-10.

Sen. Allison Copening, D-Las Vegas, said only non-violent B-class felons could reduce their minimum sentences under the legislation. She said they would also be denied if there was a firearm involved or for any felon serving his or her third felony sentence.

Supporters also pointed out the credits don’t actually get the inmate out of prison, that they just allow earlier access to a parole board hearing.

“It does not in any way assure the inmate will be granted parole,” said Sen. Valerie Wiener, D-Las Vegas.

But Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, said the bill would add more confusion to a system that is already so vague that victims don’t know how long a person will serve in prison after conviction. He said a retired judge told him judges don’t even know.


The measure goes to the governor.

Read the rest here.

Officials investigating Nevada prison inmate death

Another human being dies in prison, not of old age…
One of the latest people to subscribe to the Newsletter.
Rest in peace. Our condolences to Eric’s loved ones.

From: Reno Gazette Journal

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Nevada prison and sheriff officials are investigating after a 31-year-old inmate was found dead in his cell at Ely State Prison.

The state Corrections Department issued a statement Monday saying that Erik Houser was found dead about 2:20 p.m. Sunday during a routine prisoner check at the prison more than 200 miles north of Las Vegas.

Corrections spokesman Kevin Ingram says an autopsy was planned, and White Pine County sheriff’s and prisons officials are investigating.

Ingram couldn’t immediately confirm that Houser, then 28, was recaptured in Reno in February 2008 after walking away from a low-security prison camp in Elko County.

The rest here.