Nevada bill aims to curb solitary confinement

CARSON CITY — Nevada legislators joined other states Wednesday that are starting to examine solitary confinement methods amid concerns it has lasting harmful effects on inmates.

Senators on the Judiciary Committee discussed a bill that would limit the duration and frequency of solitary confinement implementation in prison population management decisions.

Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, presented Senate Bill 107 to the committee earlier in the session. He told the committee that solitary confinement could make inmates more dangerous when they were released, and he showed a video that highlighted seemingly barbaric conditions in some American prisons.

But according to one Nevada prison official, many of the shortfalls feared by lawmakers and portrayed in the documentary are nothing like the reality of “solitary” for Nevada inmates.

“All cells have communication devices — windows to the outside. Most have the option to have radio or television in their rooms. They can make phone calls and have regular visits,” said E.K. McDaniel, the deputy director of operations at the Nevada Department of Corrections. “The segregated inmate has everything an inmate has in the general population. The only difference is he’s isolated from others.”

He added that a review panel meets every 90 days to re-evaluate if inmates need to continue their incarceration separated from others. The largest number of inmates who have been isolated for long periods of time are often in danger of other prisoners harming them for various reasons, McDaniel said.

Segerblom said later Wednesday that while the situation might not be as bad as originally thought, there is still a need for lawmakers to act.

“It’s not like black and white where they’re putting people away for months on end without any light. That’s clearly not happening. But there are abuses of the system, and we need to try to correct those,” Segerblom said.

The proposal would ban the use of solitary confinement as a disciplinary measure for children or adults in jail or prison. The practice would be allowed only if all other options failed and the inmate is deemed a danger to himself or others.

If solitary confinement is used, the bill said, it must only be for the minimum time necessary. The bill defines solitary confinement as isolation in a cell for more than 16 hours per day.

But the bill probably will be altered to create some sort of interim session review panel to recommend what areas need to be improved via a separate bill in 2015, Segerblom said.

“If there’s anything we can do to limit it, that would be great,” he said of solitary confinement. “But if we can’t, it’s definitely an issue that’s not going away.”