America’s 10 Worst Prisons: Ely State Prison makes it to the Dishonorable Mentions (top 17)

America’s 10 Worst Prisons: Dishonorable Mentions
7 runners-up, from a “gladiator school” to America’s largest death row.

By James Ridgeway and Jean Casella
Wed May. 15, 2013, in:  Mother Jones Magazine

#1: ADX (federal supermax)
#2: Allan B. Polunsky Unit (Texas)
#3: Tent City Jail (Phoenix)
#4: Orleans Parish (Louisiana)
#5: LA County Jail (Los Angeles)
#6: Pelican Bay (California)
#7: Julia Tutwiler (Alabama)
#8: Reeves Country Detention Complex (Texas)
#9: Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility (Mississippi)
#10: Rikers Island (New York City)

Read the complete introduction to our 10 Worst Prisons project.
Last of 11 parts.

Serving time in prison is not supposed to be pleasant. Nor, however, is it supposed to include being raped by fellow prisoners or staff, beaten by guards for the slightest provocation, driven mad by long-term solitary confinement, or killed off by medical neglect. These are the fates of thousands of prisoners every year—men, women, and children housed in lockups that give Gitmo and Abu Ghraib a run for their money.

While there’s plenty of blame to go around, and while not all of the facilities described in this series have all of the problems we explore, some stand out as particularly bad actors. These dishonorable mentions make up the final installment of our 11-part series, a subjective ranking based on three years of research, correspondence with prisoners, and interviews with reform advocates concerning the penal facilities with the grimmest claims to infamy.

Attica Correctional Facility (Attica, New York): More than four decades after its famous uprising, New York’s worst state prison still lives up to its brutal history. According to the Correctional Association of New York, which has a legislative mandate to track prison conditions, Attica is plagued by staff-on-prisoner violence, intimidation, and sexual abuse.

Communications Management Units (Marion, Illinois, and Terre Haute, Indiana): These two federal prisons-within-prisons, whose populations are more than two-thirds Muslim, were opened secretly by the Bureau of Prisons during the Bush administration, according to the Center for Constitutional Rights, which is challenging the facilities in a federal lawsuit. “The Bureau claims that CMUs are designed to hold dangerous terrorists and other high-risk inmates, requiring heightened monitoring of their external and internal communications,” notes a lawsuit fact sheet. “Many prisoners, however, are sent to these isolation units for their constitutionally protected religious beliefs, unpopular political views, or in retaliation for challenging poor treatment or other rights violations in the federal prison system.” (Also see: Pelican Bay.)

Ely State Prison (Ely, Nevada): A “shocking and callous disregard for human life” is how an auditor described medical care at Ely, which houses the state’s death row along with other maximum security prisoners (PDF). The audit, which found that one prisoner was allowed to rot to death from gangrene, formed the basis of a 2008 class-action lawsuit brought by the ACLU’s National Prison Project. The suit was settled in 2010, but by 2012 the prison still was not in full compliance.

Idaho Correctional Center (Kuna, Idaho): Run by Corrections Corporation of America, the world’s largest private prison company, ICC has been dubbed a “gladiator school” for its epidemic of gang violence. According to a lawsuit filed in 2010 by the ACLU of Idaho (PDF), the violence is not only condoned but actively promoted by the staff. The suit was settled, but last November, the ACLU said CCA appeared to be violating the agreement, which called for increased staffing and training, reporting of assaults to the local sheriff’s office, and disciplinary measures for staffers who didn’t take steps to stop or prevent assaults.

San Quentin State Prison (Marin County, California): This decrepit prison, which sits on a $2 billion piece of bayside real estate, is home to America’s largest death row. As of late-April, there were 711 men and 20 women condemned to die at San Quentin—you can find the latest stats here (PDF); the figure is constantly changing, despite a state moratorium on executions, because prisoners frequently die of illness or old age. Some even commit suicide rather than remain in solitary limbo.

Louisiana State Penitentiary (Angola, Louisiana): At America’s largest prison, those who embrace warden Burl Cain’s pet program of “moral rehabilitation” through Christianity are afforded privileges while sinners languish in institutional hell. A former slave plantation, the prison lends its name to the so-called Angola 3, two of whom have been held in solitary for 40 years, largely for their perceived political beliefs. (In March, Louisiana’s attorney general declared, bafflingly, that the men had “never been in solitary confinement.”)

The federal pen at Lewisburg.
United States Penitentiary (Lewisburg, Pennsylvania): In this overcrowded supermax, the target of multiple lawsuits, prisoners are locked down for 23 to 24 hours a day in the company of a cellmate. One lawsuit alleges that prison officials deliberately pair people with their enemies, and that this practice has led to at least two deaths. The suit also claims that prisoners have been strapped to their bunks with four-point restraints if they resist their cell assignments.

Research for this project was supported by a grant from the Investigative Fund and The Nation Institute, as well as a Soros Justice Media Fellowship from the Open Society Foundations. Additional reporting by Beth Broyles, Valeria Monfrini, Katie Rose Quandt, and Sal Rodriguez.
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Las Vegas Sun: Prison News in a few words, circumventing the Real Issues

On Dec. 17th 2012 this article was published by the Las Vegas Sun about a study researching the question if there are not enough guards in Nevada’s prisons:

http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2012/dec/17/too-few-prison-guards-nevada-study-find-out/

This article is a mish-mash of news about Nevada’s prisons with just a few words, and without much research, which omits Real Issues.

For instance, towards the end of the LV Sun article, this sentence can be read:

On another subject, state Health Officer Stacy Green told the board that all the medical violations in the prison system have been corrected. The prisons are in “complete compliance” with the medical standards, she said.

Which medical standards? Those of the UN? Is this a response to the ACLU of Nevada’s Report of 2011?How can this be? Nevada Cure has expressed to its members that they still receive complaints by prisoners of the lack of medical care on a daily basis. See for instance documents 28, 29, 30 and 30a here. And documents 55, 57-58, 59-59A here. And document 60, 61 here. These are documents belonging to Nevada Cure’s ongoing project documenting abuses inside the Nevada Department of Corrections’ prisons.

Does this mean that the culture institutionalized inside Nevada’s prisons of disrespect and cruelty towards incarcerated people, of some dominant, authoritarian, unreasonable tyrant-wardens and unprofessional, revenge/retaliation-seeking staff is now over? It is simply not true!

Why are Real Issues like Solitary Confinement (two prisons are nearly completely on permanent lockdown (meaning being celled up 23/7) with no change in sight: HDSP and Ely State Prison, and other prisons like NNCC may follow), staff-to-prisoner assaults, unhealthy food, lack of programs, lack of care for mentally ill prisoners, to name but a few ills inside the prison system, not mentioned in more detail and more regularly? Why are prison deaths never investigated by journalists?

More money MUST be invested if we want to keep incarcerating people for such long times as Life Without Parole, or sentences of 20+ years. Why? Because people voted to have representatives who WANT this! The public PAYS TAX to have these long sentences inflicted on people who go to prison, whether they are guilty or not. And prisoners are still human beings! Therefore we have to review how they are being treated.

You do not have to like prisoners to treat them humanely just like any other person in a state-run or privately run institution. Because most people in prisons will one day return, and will not be reformed, if we go on like this. And crime is not being solved by building or expanding prisons.

We need a system based on prevention and reform, not revenge.

Audit finds prison doctors paid for hours not worked

From: Las Vegas Sun
Dec 12th 2012, By Cy Ryan

CARSON CITY — Doctors hired by Nevada’s prison system may have been paid $1.9 million for hours they didn’t work, an audit found.

The audit found that full-time physicians, who are employed to work four ten-hour shifts a week, put in an average of only 5.3 hours per day. Part-time doctors work two ten-hour days.

“We estimate the annualized unsupported payments for full time doctors and part time doctors for fiscal year 2012 were approximately $1.9 million,” said the report by the Division of Internal Audits in the state Department of Administration.

The 23 physicians at the seven state prisons are paid an hourly rate ranging from $64 to $82.
An audit several years ago found that physicians hired in the state mental health system failed to put in the hours they were paid for, prompting officials to tighten controls.

The prison audit included physicians, dentists and psychiatrists.

The audit says physicians, as exempt employees, are not required to work the full ten-hour daily shift, but standard practice in Nevada is they put in “something equivalent to a 40 hour work week or more.”

Read the rest here: http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2012/dec/12/audit-finds-prison-doctors-paid-hours-not-worked/

Nev. Board OKs $450K Settlement in Inmate Death

Nevada board OKs $450K settlement in lawsuit over ex-Coasters manager’s death in prison

Shelved prison project irks NV lawmakers


From: Las Vegas Sun

The Associated Press
Friday, Sept. 10, 2010 | 10:27 a.m.

Nevada lawmakers are frustrated that $500,000 was been spent to design a prison project that won’t be built.

The 2009 Legislature approved $7.8 million to convert space at the High Desert State Prison in Clark County into a medical unit. It was described as a high priority by Corrections Director Howard Skolnik.

But the Las Vegas Sun reports Corrections Director Howard Skolnik told a legislative subcommittee Thursday that given the state’s budget crisis, there will be no money to staff it.

He also says the inmate population has held steady, eliminating the need for the medical unit.

The subcommittee agreed to abandon the project than spend $7 million for construction.

ACLU Agrees To Settle Lawsuit Charging Inadequate Medical Care At Ely State Prison


ACLUNV

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Nevada late yesterday filed in federal court a proposed agreement between a class of over 1,000 prisoners at Ely State Prison and top state prison and governmental officials that would settle a 2008 lawsuit charging that a pervasive pattern of grossly inadequate medical care at the prison created a substantial risk of serious medical harm for every prisoner in the facility.

The agreement, if approved by the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada, would result in an independent medical expert being appointed to monitor the prison’s health care system and submit regular reports evaluating prison officials’ compliance with specified medical requirements in the agreement. As part of the agreement, prison officials have agreed to build a better system of ensuring that necessary medications are provided to prisoners in a timely manner, develop health care treatment plans for any prisoners suffering from a chronic illness requiring ongoing medical care and provide prisoners with access to qualified medical staff seven days a week for any routine or emergency medical ailments.

“Nevada officials deserve credit for being willing to address medical care at Ely proactively,” said Amy Fettig, staff attorney with the ACLU National Prison Project. “Rather than spend years and years in costly litigation, both parties decided to sit down to collaborate on a solution. The result is vastly improved medical conditions for the prisoners at Ely.”

Additionally, prison officials have agreed to institute daily rounds by a nurse to pick up any medical request forms – ensuring that all prisoners have a confidential means of requesting medical care – and provide access to a registered nurse or higher level practitioner within 48 hours of a prisoner requesting medical attention.
“The reforms that prison officials have agreed to will go a long way toward fixing a very broken system,” said Lee Rowland, staff attorney with the ACLU of Nevada. “We brought this lawsuit in response to widespread evidence of unconstitutional medical conditions for Ely prisoners, and we are pleased that working collaboratively with the Attorney General’s office and the Department of Corrections has led to the resolution of some of the most pressing issues at Ely.”

The lawsuit contains three named plaintiffs, including 38-year-old David Riker, who alleged at the time the lawsuit was filed that despite his rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis, he had never received prescribed medications and X-rays ordered by an outside physician and was told by Ely medical staff that treating chronic pain is against the policy of the prison.

Lawyers on the case include Fettig, Rowland, Maggie McLetchie of the ACLU of Nevada and Steve Hanlon of Holland & Knight, LLC.

Information about the ACLU’s efforts to improve medical conditions at the Ely State Prison, including a copy of today’s settlement agreement, is available online at: www.aclu.org/ely


The settlement can be opened here (PDF).

LA Times: Court settlement would upgrade Nevada prison’s medical care

The ACLU negotiates a deal that includes better staffing and monitoring of treatment that one doctor called ‘shocking and callous.’

By Ashley Powers, Los Angeles Times
July 16, 2010
Reporting from Las Vegas —

A Nevada prison’s medical care — once described as displaying a “shocking and callous disregard for human life” — would be upgraded and monitored under a proposed court settlement filed Thursday.

An independent monitor would ensure that the remote maximum-security prison, which houses Nevada’s death row inmates, was dispensing medication and treatment in a timely manner, creating treatment plans for chronically ill inmates and had qualified medical staff available at all times, according to the proposal.

The monitor would inspect the 1,100-inmate Ely State Prison at least four times over two years. Should medical care fall short, the duration of his oversight could be extended, the proposal said.

The agreement, which still requires the approval of federal Judge Larry R. Hicks, was crafted by the ACLU, which represented Ely inmates, and state officials.

The ACLU cited a 2007 report by an Idaho doctor who, after reviewing the medical records of 35 inmates, said the Ely prison’s healthcare system amounted to “the most shocking and callous disregard for human life and human suffering that I have ever encountered.”

At the time, the men’s prison had no staff doctor; the previous one had been a gynecologist. A nurse was fired after complaining about shoddy treatment, which she said led to one inmate dying of gangrene.

Under the proposed agreement, cash-strapped Nevada would also pay $325,000 in attorney fees and any costs of improving the prison’s healthcare.

Lee Rowland of the ACLU said the plan resulted from “extensive cooperation” with the state. Partly based on National Commission on Correctional Health Care standards, it could help patch what she described as a “very broken system.” State officials declined to comment.

… read more:
The Los Angeles Times

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).

CCA: High Cost of Medical Care Cited in Decision to Turn it Back to the State

Apr. 30, 2010

CCA ended pact to run women’s prison in ’04
HIGH COST OF MEDICAL CARE CITED IN DECISION TO TURN IT BACK TO THE STATE
Pahrump Valley Times
By MARK WAITE

While Corrections Corporation of America is close to opening an $80 million federal detention center in Pahrump, the company chose an early termination of their contract to operate the Southern Nevada Women’s Correctional Center in North Las Vegas in 2004 due to the high cost of medical care.

The Nevada Southern Detention Center in Pahrump, scheduled to begin accepting inmates in October, is a male-only facility. CCA was awarded a 20-year contract by the Office of the Federal Detention Trustee to build and operate the Pahrump facility, which is up for renewal every five years.

At a Jan. 28, 2004 meeting of the State Interim Finance Committee, the Nevada Department of Corrections considered taking over inmate medical care at the women’s prison from CCA March 1 that year. But talk then expanded to the state taking over the facility completely.

Senate Bill 278, approved by the 1995 Nevada Legislature, allocated $44 million to construct a new women’s correctional center in southern Nevada. CCA constructed a correctional facility for 550 inmates and began housing the female prisoners. The state purchased the land, buildings and equipment from CCA on Oct. 3, 2001, with an operating contract to remain in effect through June 30, 2015, according to minutes provided by the research division of the Legislative Counsel Bureau.

CCA was given a per diem rate of $40.03 per inmate, which was to increase by 3 percent per year. By 2004 that rate increased to $47.79. The contract provided for automatic renewals every three years, with a renewal scheduled Oct. 3, 2004.

CCA and the state DOC had been in discussions over the per diem rate and the provision of health care to the facility for three years.

Nevada DOC Medical Administrator Chuck Schardin reported CCA health care costs increased 21 percent from $2.4 million in 2002 to almost $3 million in 2003. Off-site expenses alone nearly doubled from $589,840 to $1.06 million.

The minutes show a dramatic reduction of inmates from projected numbers also caused difficulties. While the women’s correctional facility held 550 inmates at one time, there was a population of only 445 inmates in early 2003. In spring 2002, CCA alleged inmates from honor camps with medical problems were being dumped at the women’s prison.

In excerpts of the minutes from the Jan. 28, 2004, meeting, Tony Grande, CCA vice-president for state relations, said, “Continuing the contract would be exceedingly difficult if CCA was not able to remedy the costs related to medical services being provided at SNWCF.”

Dr. Ted D’Amico, medical director for the state DOC, is quoted in March 31, 2004, as saying: “CCA had struggled with the medical care of inmates from the start because of their inability to hire good administrators.”

The intake process at the correctional facility required assistance from the Nevada DOC during a year in which the medical director’s budget absorbed nearly $300,000 of medical care costs, D’Amico said.

CCA had problems providing timely dental care to inmates, who had to be incarcerated for six months before dental care was provided, D’Amico said. The company provided a half-time dentist, he said.

There were also concerns about psychotropic medications and HIV program standards.

John Tighe, CCA vice president of health services, was quoted as saying bluntly, “Operating an institution housing female inmates was not an easy task.”

CCA was committed to providing quality care at the women’s prison and had to fill in employment gaps, flying in staff from other areas using temporary and agency personnel, which wasn’t cost effective, Tighe said.

State Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, suggested the state assume operation of the entire facility, instead of just the medical care.

Following that discussion, CCA provided a notice of contract termination Feb. 23, 2004, effective Oct. 1, 2004.

D’Amico “commended CCA’s expertise and hard work during the length of their contract with the state.”

The facility, now under state management, is now known as the Florence McClure Women’s Correctional Center.