weather icon Clear

Nevada seized personal funds from prisoners despite withdrawal cap

The Department of Corrections has been taking up to half of the personal money families send prisoners for basic supplies even after legislation passed in May intended to cap such deductions.

In September, the state prison system started taking up to 80 percent of the money that families send incarcerated loved ones in order to pay victim restitution. The state Board of Prison Commissioners, including Gov. Steve Sisolak, previously ordered the department to reduce the percentage, and new legislation that went into effect on July 1 lowered the rate yet again.

But funds were still being overdrawn, family members said during a board meeting Tuesday.

Before the policies were put into effect, prisoners who owed restitution had money taken from wages they earned in work-release programs. The corrections department started seizing restitution from personal funds sent by family members in the past 10 months.

Prisoner families have had to pay significantly more for prisoners to afford basic hygiene products or supplemental food. Some have had to stop sending money entirely, Nick Shepack, a program and policy associate with the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, previously told the Review-Journal.

Why funds have been overdrawn

Senate Bill 22 stated that the prison system as of July 1 could only withdraw up to 25 percent of money sent to prisoners, and up to 50 percent of prisoner wages. Department officials said this week that starting Wednesday, prisoners will be refunded money that has been overdrawn since the bill went into effect.

Money was being overdrawn after July 1 because the prison has been unable to change its policy, officials said Tuesday. Changing the policy is taking time because the legislation specifies that changes have to go through a public workshop and official approval process, they said.

The prison system first justified the deductions using Marsy’s Law, although the victims’ bill of rights does not require the state to withdraw a certain amount of money for restitution, Shepack has said.

Something ‘wrong with the system’

According to letters sent to the Board of Prison Commissioners, the policy previously caused altercations between prisoners with access to money and those whose money was seized.

“Yes it was frustrating that it took 10 months to figure this out,” Shepack said Tuesday. “However, we are very happy with the resolution.”

Families who addressed the board on Tuesday also expressed frustration that it took months to resolve the issue.

Jodi Hocking, founder of the prisoner advocacy group Return Strong, said a lack of communication and “smoke and mirrors” from prison officials highlight “something inherently wrong with the system.”

“I guess our question is, who cares, really?” Hocking asked board members on Tuesday. “Who holds government agencies accountable to the law, to administrative regulations?”

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_newberg on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.