Matt Hutchinson is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole in the Nevada prison system for a murder he says he didn’t commit, but for which he takes responsibility.
Hutchinson, who says he’s passed a polygraph, is hoping his attorney will win his release. In the meantime, he’s squirreling away so-called “gate money,” which is prison talk for savings. After 14 years behind bars, Hutchinson had amassed $400, the maximum allowed by the state. On Thursday, the money was gone, his account zeroed out.
“They took all of it,” he says.
“They also took everything off my books,” he says of the money deposited on his behalf by friends and family. Hutchinson had $130. “They put my books in the negative.”
Inmates were confused and concerned about where their money went, says Hutchinson.
In the past, the Department of Corrections seized 50 percent of funds deposited in the accounts of inmates who owe restitution, with 40 percent going to their victims and the remaining 10 percent to the inmate’s savings.
But without notice, this week the DOC upped the ante and began seizing 80 percent from inmate accounts with 70 percent allocated to restitution and 10 percent to gate money.
That leaves inmates with 20 cents on every dollar they receive to buy food from the commissary, pay for medical needs, hygiene items, and purchase additional clothing.
“Toilet paper,” says Hutchinson. “They issue toilet paper. But they don’t issue enough.”
The money is also used to buy legal supplies for inmates who are appealing their sentences.
According to a Facebook group of inmate families, prison commissary prices also increased this week.
“My phone is ringing off the hook with questions from families,” Ronda Larsen of the Department of Corrections’ Family Services Division told the Current. “It’s because of Marsy’s Law.”
Two years ago Nevada voters overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment known as Marsy’s Law, which afforded a number of rights to victims of crime, including full and timely restitution.
“The state hasn’t been taking out the restitution payments money,” said Larsen. “The governor said ‘do it.’ We don’t have a choice.”
Gov. Steve Sisolak did not respond to requests for comment, nor did Department of Corrections Director Charles Daniels.
Ironically, the billionaire behind the successful effort to pass Marsy’s Law in a dozen states across America is Henry Nicholas, who pleaded guilty in Las Vegas to drug charges that would likely have landed him in prison had he not possessed the wealth to make multi-million dollar payments to charities instead.
“It is unacceptable that in times like these, where so many families are already struggling in Nevada, the NDOC Director, out of nowhere, would make the decision to raise to 80 percent the amount they take from what the families of the incarcerated send their loved ones,” Hutchinson’s wife, Elodie, said via email. “They obviously have no consideration whatsoever for us and the financial difficulties we face, not only to support someone in prison but in the middle of a pandemic.”
Nevada law allows the deduction of “an amount the Director deems reasonable” to pay for items including:
- a legislatively-created fund for victims of crime
- support of the offender’s family
- therapy or aftercare
- the offender’s funeral
- victim restitution
- administrative assessments
Of the $130 Hutchinson had seized from his books, ten percent — $13 — will go to his savings where he’ll begin to replenish the gate money taken by the state this week. He’ll be allowed to save up to $550 in gate money, a new ceiling.
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