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Nevada inmates held in Arizona private prison go on hunger strike, allege subpar conditions

Michelle Rindels
Michelle Rindels
Criminal Justice
A guard tower at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City

A group of Nevada inmates who are being housed in a private prison in Arizona have gone on a hunger strike, although prison officials say it’s not clear that it’s directly rooted in a nationwide prison strike happening in protest of laws and conditions in America’s prisons.

Nevada Department of Corrections Director James Dzurenda said the strike began Tuesday, when 18 inmates who are being housed at the Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Arizona skipped a meal. He said several had resumed eating by Wednesday, and that no force-feeding was happening because they hadn’t missed very many meals.

NDOC spokeswoman Brooke Santina added that her agency is in regular contact with the private prison, which is run by CoreCivic. The state has a contract with the company to house 200 prisoners because Nevada facilities have run out of room.

“Medical staff are aware of the inmates who are choosing to miss meals, however, inmates fast periodically for health or religious reasons. It is an inmate's right to choose not to eat for whatever reason. We do not force-feed individuals,” Santina said. “There are a certain number of meals that must be missed before we begin a hunger protocol.”

American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada Policy Director Holly Welborn said that in the past week or two, her organization had received more than a dozen complaints from Nevada inmates at the private prison, and about half of those who submitted complaints said they would be participating in the strike.

While the ACLU of Nevada declined to release direct copies of the complaints, they shared a summary of the correspondence. The inmates have alleged that CoreCivic is not following Nevada regulations related to inmate funds, is failing to follow through with medical plans established before they were transferred to Arizona and is reducing good time credits (sentence reductions for good behavior) that the inmates previously earned.

The prisoners also allege that there’s an inappropriate use of “segregation” (inmates separated from the general population), that staff is retaliating against inmates for submitting complaints and that they’re being restricted from or denied access to the commissary, religious services, educational programming, medical care and visitation.

Dzurenda said he’s aware of the complaints and is looking into the situation.

“We had an agreement with [CoreCivic] that services and conditions of confinement were supposed to be nothing less than what we have in Nevada,” he said. “So we’re beginning to make sure they’re doing exactly what they’re supposed to.”

But he said he believes the complaints are originating from members of a single prison gang who have been harassed by another gang and want to leave.

“They’ve been having constant problems for the last month and they’re trying to find any way possible to get out,” he said.

Organizers of the nationwide prison strike, set to run from August 21 to Sept. 9, are making ten demands for reform. They include a call for standard wages for their labor, an end to sentences without parole, access to rehabilitation programs even for violent offenders and voting rights for inmates.

The ACLU said it supports the demands of the prisoners on strike.

“Our country is stronger when people most marginalized and directly impacted by unjust policies raise their voices in protest and demand a different future,” the national organization said in a statement. “We urge corrections officials not to respond with retaliation. Peaceful demonstrations challenging unjust conditions and practices do not merit placing participants into solitary confinement or adding time to their sentences.”


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