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October 30, 2014

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Six months after death, Nevada inmate’s identity still under wraps

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Cathleen Allison / AP

A corrections officer talks with inmates in the cellhouse at the Nevada State Prison in Carson City.

Nearly half a year after an inmate died at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center, state corrections officials still have not released his identity.

Maxcine Blackwell, a spokeswoman for Nevada Department of Corrections, said the name of the inmate, who died Oct. 21, 2013, was being withheld while the department continued its hunt for next of kin. Blackwell said a new lead on a potential next of kin was found this week and the department was hoping to release the name soon.

When prison officials announced the inmate’s death, they said the man had been ill and foul play was not suspected. He had been jailed since April 2009, serving a burglary sentence from Clark County of eight to 20 years, officials said.

The man was one of four inmates who died in October at the prison in Carson City. The American Civil Liberties Union’s Nevada chapter said at the time it was troubled by the cluster of deaths at the prison and the lack of information about them.

The Department of Corrections said 35 of its inmates died in 2013. The 2.9 deaths per month in 2013 was the lowest number this decade for inmates in Nevada prisons.

But during the first three months of 2014, 13 inmates already have died in Nevada prisons — an average of more than four per month.

News that the dead inmate’s identity still hadn’t been released was disturbing, an ACLU spokesman said this week.

Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel for the ACLU of Nevada, said the inmate deaths were unacceptably high and that the ACLU was monitoring the situation.

"We believe that substandard medical care is rampant throughout the Nevada prison system,” Lichtenstein said. “We get a significant number of complaints about that."

The concerns come on top of a request by the Department of Corrections earlier this month for an additional $2.2 million in contingency funds to cover an unanticipated increase in medical costs.

In a statement issued Wednesday, the department said: “The Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC) incarcerates approximately 13,000 inmates. Many of these inmates come to the NDOC with health issues. Just like in the civilian population, some inmates do die. … The NDOC provides medical care for the inmates in the Regional Medical Facility as well as in local hospitals.”

In addition to not identifying the deceased inmate, the department refused to release his age or say if an autopsy had been performed, also citing next of kin as the reason.

Autopsies were a point of contention when the inmate died, with the department apparently shirking a state law that requires an autopsy for every inmate who dies in the department’s care.

“Since October 2013, in most cases when an inmate does die, the NDOC requests an autopsy be performed,” the department said in its statement.

Asked at what point the department gives up on finding next of kin, Blackwell said: "We don't give up. We keep trying."

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