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A Call for Changes to Solitary Confinement in Nevada Prisons

A new report calls on Nevada state prisons to lessen their reliance on solitary confinement as discipline.(MarkHiggins/iStockphoto)
A new report calls on Nevada state prisons to lessen their reliance on solitary confinement as discipline.(MarkHiggins/iStockphoto)
February 15, 2017

CARSON CITY, Nev. – A new report calls for major changes to solitary confinement in Nevada state prisons. Researchers surveyed 291 people incarcerated in isolation who made complaints to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Nevada Disability Advocacy and Law Center, or the national nonprofit Solitary Watch. They found 40 percent spent more than a month in isolation without any kind of intervention, and 29 percent said they have a disability.

Lynne Bigley, supervising attorney with the Nevada Disability Advocacy and Law Center, says the practice of keeping a person away from the general prison population, without adequate physical or mental stimulation, is unacceptable, particularly for some types of people.

"As Nevada's protection and advocacy agency for Nevadans with disabilities, we consider the practice of solitary confinement of inmates with severe mental illness, intellectual disabilities and traumatic brain injuries to be cruel and unusual punishment and a violation of the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution," she explained.

The report calls for limiting solitary confinement to less than 15 days, and forbidding it for people with serious mental or developmental disabilities.

James Dzurenda, the new Department of Corrections director, says he welcomes the report and uses segregation only as long as is necessary to guarantee people's safety in prison. He adds the department is stepping up mental-health treatment to get at the underlying reasons that led to each person's time in solitary.

Dzurenda took over last April. He says he's bringing in consultants from the Vera Institute of Justice "Safe Alternatives to Segregation" project, and plans to align Nevada's program with the Justice Department's list of 53 guiding principles.

"You have to refocus on what we're really segregating them for, and what are you doing about it once they're there," he said. "And not leaving them in long term, because it could add more damage to the offender's anger issues or it's not correcting them."

The report calls for more staff and programs at Ely Prison, where people on death row are housed. Dzurenda says he is transitioning prisoners with the highest needs to a facility in Carson City with access to more mental-health specialists.

Several bills have been introduced in Congress to reform segregation practices in federal prisons.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - NV