Audit: Nevada prison use of force complaints routinely went uninvestigated
A yearlong audit of the Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC) found that two-thirds of a sample of excessive force grievances filed in 2021 were not reviewed by the department’s inspector general, that the few investigations that were conducted did not happen in a timely manner, and that the department spent nearly $200,000 on body cameras that have not been used.
Auditors found that of 20 grievances filed for excessive use of force — selected from a broader pool of 83 alleged incidents overall — only seven were reviewed by the agency’s inspector general. Of those seven, none were reviewed in a timely manner, the report said, with grievances left unprocessed for an average of 274 days.
The report was presented to a legislative subcommittee Tuesday as one of several legislative branch audits of executive departments conducted over the last year.
The report comes after use of force issues and attempted reform within state prisons in recent years, including a ban on birdshot rounds that killed an inmate in 2014. Many of the proposed solutions have been stymied, in part, by chronic staffing shortages. Auditors said the vacancy rate surged to 25 percent in January 2022, or nearly double the rate in December 2020.
“It's really alarming to see the rate of grievances that were not reviewed properly or in a timely manner by the inspector general, or by the use of force review panel,” Assemblywoman Brittney Miller (D-Las Vegas) said during the meeting.
NDOC admitted to the shortcomings outlined in the audit, and in a response accepted all 16 of the recommendations made by auditors. In some cases, several of the recommendations, especially those related to training issues, have already been addressed through memoranda or internal policy shifts.
Grievances are the first step in allowing inmates to challenge alleged misuse of force before they file lawsuits. But auditors said those grievances were left untracked in part because staff for the inspector general were not trained to flag use of force grievances separately from other types in their internal computer system.
Among the 32-page report’s other findings were that the special panels designed to review use of force incidents frequently did not convene, and that data collected on use of force incidents “is not accurate, complete or reliable.”
The report also found that the department had functionally wasted more than $192,000 since 2018 on 71 body cameras and related infrastructure that have never been used. Auditors also found the unused cameras could stand to cost the department an additional $26,500 in annual licensing fees if the contract is not canceled.
In 2017, state lawmakers expanded a pilot program requiring body cameras for law enforcement to all state and local law enforcement agencies, though the law’s definitions exclude corrections facilities.
However, NDOC still separately received funds from lawmakers that year to purchase body cameras on the grounds that they would “help reduce litigation, liability and improve staff and inmate safety.”
One of the audit supervisors, Eugene Allara, told the subcommittee that the cameras are now “potentially obsolete,” and the audit recommendation was left intentionally vague so the department can choose either to get the cameras working, or sell them to recoup at least some of the money spent.
Auditors also found that so-called “prospective officers,” or officers who were employed with NDOC but have not yet completed their training, were allowed to work in some cases without proper supervision or training, and in four cases were left to work alone. They also found that in some cases, department training — including for the use of some weapons or restraining devices — was not adequately tracked.
The department accepted all recommendations, including changing the process of tracking grievances within the inspector general's office, developing a plan to use the body cameras or sell the equipment, and no longer assigning prospective officers to jobs with direct contact with inmates — a move that already occurred last April.
However, there were few specific details about implementation of those changes in the formal departmental response included with Tuesday’s audit, and a more specific 60-day plan for corrections will be due to lawmakers this June. Another six-month check-in on those recommendations is scheduled for December.