Las Vegas Sun

August 23, 2017

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Bill would limit prisons’ use of solitary confinement

CARSON CITY — Some Nevada prison inmates have been confined in solitary confinement for 20 years or more without getting a disciplinary hearing, an ACLU spokeswoman said today.

Holly Welborn of the ACLU told the Senate Judiciary Committee that a study found inmates confined in isolation develop lasting mental and physical problems. “There is an overuse of segregation,” she said.

Welborn testified in support of a bill by Sen. Pat Spearman, D-North Las Vegas, that would severely limit the use of solitary confinement in prisons and juvenile detention facilities.

James Dzurenda, director of the state Department of Corrections, said some reforms already have been implemented, and solitary confinement is limited to 60 days. All mentally ill prisoners have been removed from solitary and are under treatment, he said.

An 18-month study is underway of Nevada’s use of solitary confinement, and the recommendations will be reported to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Dzurenda suggested any changes in the law be delayed until the study is finished. He said changes approved by the state Prison Board must be given a chance to work.

The measure, Senate Bill 402, gained support from the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, public defenders in Washoe and Clark counties, and the Libertarian Party. Representatives of the sheriffs in Clark and Washoe counties also spoke in support of the bill.

The bill specifies inmates should be placed in solitary only if they present a threat to themselves, other inmates, staff or the security of the prison. It states that all other less restrictive options must be considered first.

The legislation says the mental or physical health of an inmate should not be compromised if placed in solitary.