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Justice Department says Nevada prison system breached disabilities act

Nevada’s prison system violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by housing inmates with HIV separately from other prisoners and denying them equal employment opportunities, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The findings are just two issues raised Monday in a letter of findings from the Justice Department regarding the Nevada Department of Corrections’ treatment of inmates with mobility disabilities, HIV and other medical or mental health conditions.

The investigation into the Corrections Department’s compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act also found the prison system limited the access of prisoners with disabilities to conservation camps and transitional-housing facilities, lower-security environments in which inmates can earn work credit to reduce their sentences.

Inmates with HIV were also barred or fired from work credit-granting culinary jobs in Nevada facilities despite system regulations, according to the letter.

The Corrections Department’s administrative regulations state an HIV-positive inmate “may be classified to assignments in the canteens, culinary, food services, infirmary or allied health services area” as long as the individual meets typical criteria as well as health and safety requirements.

“Following a comprehensive ADA compliance review, the department found that NDOC’s discriminatory practices have resulted in the illegal segregation and stigmatization of inmates with HIV and the incarceration of inmates with disabilities for longer periods, in more restrictive settings, than inmates without disabilities,” the Justice Department said in a news release.

The Corrections Department is expected to review the findings to come to an agreement with the Justice Department, or it could face a lawsuit, the letter warned.

“The Nevada Department of Corrections just received a copy of the ADA review from the United States Department of Justice,” the Corrections Department said in a statement Monday. “We will review the findings as well as our policies and procedures. The NDOC is committed to ensuring a safe and humane environment for all inmates.”

Inmates with HIV can be placed in single cells or “dormitory-type housing” with other inmates but cannot be in double-occupancy cells with inmates who don’t have HIV, according to Corrections Department regulations.

Housing an HIV-positive inmate alone or in a cell with another HIV-positive inmate can cause privacy and security concerns.

“As a result of the NDOC’s unnecessary segregation policy, the NDOC has exposed inmates with HIV to potential harm from inmates who may hold unfounded fears of, or prejudices against, those with HIV,” the letter said.

The review, sparked by complaints from two HIV-positive inmates at High Desert State Prison in Indian Springs, encompassed visits to in-state facilities, a document review and interviews with more than 30 Nevada inmates with disabilities as well as more than 20 Corrections Department employees, according to the Justice Department.

Among the letter’s suggestions to rectify the situation include the payment of “compensatory damages to aggrieved persons” because of the policies and appointment of an individual at each facility to keep track of Title II requirements.

Title II of the disabilities act “protects qualified individuals with disabilities from discrimination on the basis of disability in services, programs and activities provided by state and local government entities.”

Contact Pashtana Usufzy at pusufzy@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4563. Find @pashtana_u on Twitter.

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