Months after civil rights groups and attorneys warned elected officials about the potential spread of Covid-19 among incarcerated individuals they are, yet again, trying to get lawmakers and corrections officials to respond to the rising cases at correctional facilities.
“Since we sent our first letter to criminal justice leaders four months ago, confirmed cases of Covid-19 have skyrocketed in our communities and in Nevada’s jails and prisons,” said Nikki Levy, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Nevada. “We warned that we would see an outbreak of Covid-19 in our institutions without swift action, and our recommendations were ignored. Now we’re again calling for the state to take meaningful steps to prevent further harm and injustice, or else we will.”
The ACLU along with the NAACP and the Nevada Attorneys for Criminal Justice sent a letter Monday to various judges and elected officials including Gov. Steve Sisolak, Attorney General Aaron Ford and Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson.
Groups sent a similar letter to Sisolak in March asking him to consider granting immediate commutations “to anyone whose sentence would end in the next year, to anyone currently being held on a technical (crimeless) supervision violation, and to anyone identified by the CDC as particularly vulnerable whose sentence would end in the next two years.”
“This letter is an acknowledgment that our plea was not heard. Simply stated, Nevada’s failure to adequately respond has put thousands of lives—both inside and outside of detention facilities—at risk,” the groups wrote Monday.
According to the letter, there have been 86 confirmed cases of Covid-19 reported among staff and inmates in nine of the state’s correctional facilities, including 38 reported at High Desert State Prison.
The Clark County Detention Center has reported 152 cases, though that includes people who are no longer in custody.
Despite calls from criminal justice advocates, public defenders, defense lawyers and civil rights groups, the Nevada Department of Corrections has pushed back against calls to reduce the inmate population to prevent the spread of the virus.
At an April Nevada Sentencing Commission meeting, one commission member proposed sending a letter to Sisolak recommending the release of vulnerable inmates and those with underlying health conditions, which was a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The proposal, which limited the release to people not serving sentencing for “crimes against persons,” was shot down.
Commission members made numerous requests for more testing throughout several meetings in April.
NDOC didn’t increase testing among inmates after an inmate at High Desert Prison, who was asymptomatic, tested positive in May.