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Nevada Assembly OKs private prison ban; bill heads to Senate

The Nevada Assembly approved a ban on private prisons in Nevada on a party line vote Wednesday evening.

While Nevada does not have for-profit prisons, Assembly Bill 183 would prevent any from opening in the state going forward. The bill would also require the state to end contracts with for-profit facilities for housing Nevada inmates out of state by June 30, 2022.

The bill is part of the broader criminal justice reform considered a priority among Democrats who control both chambers as well as the governor’s mansion this session. It passed by a vote of 29-12, with Democrats in favor and Republicans against.

The bill now heads to the Senate.

The state previously had contracts with a private juvenile detention facility and a private women’s prison. A 2003 state investigation found poor medical care and supervision at the women’s prison, including an inmate who had been impregnated by a guard. The operator of that prison chose not to renew its contract with the state. The private juvenile facility closed in 2015.

Opponents of the bill argue private prisons are able to leverage better prices than their public counterparts and can help address the overcrowding issues currently facing several of the prisons in Nevada.

“While I applaud the efforts of many of my colleagues to overhaul our criminal justice system, I do believe we are shooting ourselves in the foot on prison reform,” Assemblywoman Robin Titus, R-Wellington, told her colleagues on the floor.

“We are reducing the number of options that our state has on the table,” Titus added.

But supporters of the bill said that addressing those issues is the responsibility of the state, and not something that should be passed off to a for-profit industry.

“We can’t let private industry perform a core governmental service. It’s our responsibility to do it,” Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, said while speaking in favor of the bill on the Assembly floor. “If we really want to address what’s going on with corrections, we need to address our officers, their safety and the vacancy rate and the overtime rate. It’s deplorable on how they’re worked and how hard they work and all the overtime that they do.”

The Assembly also passed Assembly Bill 349 on a unanimous vote. The bill would prohibit police officers from having any sexual conduct with a person they have arrested or detained.

The Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 430, which adds anxiety and autism spectrum disorders, anorexia, autoimmune disease and opioid addiction/dependence to the list of medical conditions for which people can obtain a registration card exempting them from prosecution for marijuana possession, delivery or production.

Capital reporter Bill Dentzer contributed to this report. Contact Capital Bureau Chief Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3820. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

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