The Nevada Board of Prison Commissioners temporarily suspended a policy that allowed inmates’ accounts to be raided and 80 percent of money sent to them by their families to be seized.
Though the Nevada Department of Corrections temporarily approved the policy Sept. 1, the board, which includes Gov. Steve Sisolak, Attorney General Aaron Ford and Secretary of State Barbara Cegasvke, had been expected to formally approve it during Thursday’s meeting.
Instead, Sisolak asked for the board to revisit the policy at a later date in order to gather more information, but also didn’t think the 80 percent deduction should continue in the interim.
“I’m not comfortable with this being in effect right now until we take action,” Sisolak said.
Inmates rely on the money sent from their families — many who often don’t have much to spare as it is — to buy food from the commissary, pay for medical needs or obtain hygiene items.
Families of inmates along with legal groups again highlighted on Thursday the ramifications of the NDOC policy and urged the board to reverse course.
“This garnishment is falling on us, the families of these prisoners,” said one woman. “We cannot afford to lose 80 percent of what we send.”
Holly Welborn, the policy director for the ACLU of Nevada, was thrilled by the decision and said it hits “the reset button to move forward into better negotiations to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
Before the policy change, 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.
Citing Marsy’s Law, a 2018 voter-approved amendment that added rights for crime victims to the Nevada constitution including the right to timely restitution, NDOC director Charles Daniels authorized an increase in the deductions.
Thursday’s vote reversed his decision.
“It returns back to the status quo,” Welborn said. “We need to have these conversations with our leadership — the Nevada Department of Corrections, the Governor’s office, the ACLU and the defense bar. We all have expertise and knowledge on how Marsy’s Law should be implemented and this is not it. This is not what was anticipated by the proponents of Marsy’s Law. They made that clear in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Assembly Judiciary Committee in their deliberations on Marsy’s law.”
However, money already taken from prisoners will not be returned.
John Borrowman, Deputy Director of Support Services for NDOC, told board members it would be extremely difficult to retrieve the funds that were already taken from inmates’ accounts since they’ve already been allocated to victims.
There are still many unanswered questions about why the policy change was implemented, how the deduction amount was determined and how much money has been collected from all the inmates since its implementation.
Borrowman was supposed to give a presentation on the deductions but deferred going forward with it until a later date.
The Board of Prison Commissioners, which has only convened twice in 2020, hasn’t scheduled when it will meet next.
Welborn said the ACLU is going to push for a cap on account deductions, and has talked with lawmakers on potentially addressing the issue during the 2021 legislative session.
“Even a 50 percent dedication is just far too high for most people,” she said.
She also suggested some type of requirement before the director “could make an arbitrary decision on the amount of money that can come out for restitution.”