Nevada chosen for program to reduce solitary confinement use in prisons

CARSON CITY — Nevada is one of five states that were chosen to work with the Vera Institute of Justice on ways to reduce the use of solitary confinement in the state prison system, the Department of Corrections said Tuesday.

“With Vera’s assistance, Nevada will be better-equipped to both reduce reliance on segregation and improve the ways it is used, with the goal of preparing inmates for success when they return to our communities,” James Dzurenda, director of the Nevada Department of Corrections, said in a statement. “This opportunity is directly in line with the mission of the department, will encourage positive development and needed reform, and will boost safety inside and outside prison walls.”

Nevada’s prison population, estimated at 14,000, ballooned beyond projections in recent years.

Inmates are placed in segregation for various reasons, and there is a waiting list, department spokeswoman Brooke Keast said.

“We have people who were supposed to be in segregation and we didn’t have a place to put them,” Keast said.

Segregation does not necessarily mean solitary confinement, officials said.

“We don’t have special cells for segregation,” Keast said in an email. “Often segregated inmates are double-bunked as well, not necessarily housed alone.”

All new inmates go through an intake process of up to 21 days, during which they are evaluated for such things as safety concerns, medical and mental health needs and education. They aren’t considered segregated but are kept apart from the general prison population.

“The process is extensive, and once the inmate is classified, they are moved to the appropriate housing facility,” Keast said.

Inmates also are placed in segregation for disciplinary reasons or because they are a danger to themselves or others.

It’s not immediately clear how many inmates are segregated at Nevada prisons, how long they remain segregated or how many are on the waiting list, Keast said.

The Vera Institute will evaluate Nevada’s use of segregation and recommend better methods and practices.

A $2.2 million grant to Vera from the U.S. Department of Justice is funding the 21-month effort. Utah, Louisiana, Minnesota and Virginia are also sharing in the grant. The states provide a match up to $50,000.

The first report on findings and recommendations for Nevada is expected in the fall .

Contact Sandra Chereb at schereb@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3821. Follow @SandraChereb on Twitter.