NDOC wants inmates excluded from state sexual assault bill of rights

NDOC wants inmates excluded from state sexual assault bill of rights
(Photo: Nevada Department of Corrections)

By Michael Lyle, Nevada Current

This story was originally published by Nevada Current

CARSON CITY–Despite not identifying any instances of a specific problem as a result of Nevada enacting a Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights, NDOC asked lawmakers Tuesday to amend the state law to exclude inmates.

The department reported three incidents of sexual assault in 2020, and said there was no trouble involving the requirements of the state law in those cases. 

However, in the first hearing for Senate Bill 20, prison officials contended the Nevada law, which outlines what rights victims of sexual assault are afforded, could prevent them from upholding the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act, which mandates standards and procedures for correctional facilities. 

The Nevada statue “does not in any way address the barriers or safety and security risks this legislation poses to the Department of Corrections to follow for incarcerated survivors,” said NDOC Director Charles Daniels. “The goal is to continue to use the federally imposed Prison Rape Elimination Act standard to address policies and procedures related to incarcerated survivors of sexual assault, rather than legislation that’s geared to survivors in the community.”

Lawmakers passed legislation in 2019 to add rights for all survivors of sexual assault to Nevada law, which included the right to obtain a victim’s advocate or “designated attendant to provide support.” It also allows for survivors to choose the gender of the person investigating the case. 

Harold Wickham, NDOC deputy director of operations, said allowing victims who are incarcerated to choose advocates in the community presented safety concerns.

“Are you suggesting that anyone who is a victim of sexual assault, because they’re in prison, allowing them to choose their own advocate makes the community less safe?” asked state Sen. Dallas Harris. 

After saying he did not want to get into “what if scenarios,” Wickham proposed a scenario in which an inmate tried to “manipulate the system.”

“What if they choose an advocate and let’s just say it was somebody on death row who wanted to escape really bad,” he said. “There are some concerns of some unintended consequences.”

Daniels argued the provision allowing victims to choose community advocates also restricts prison autonomy.

“Typically our representation would come from a legal entity from outside and/or from individuals within the agency,” he said. “I certainly don’t want to appear to be callous to the needs of a sexual assault victims. For those who find a way to manipulate the system by bringing in someone who has an interest in continuing a criminal enterprise like bringing in narcotics, we would have no ability to limit who comes in based on the fact the victim or alleged victim could ask for anyone they wanted.” 

Both Judiciary Committee Chair Sen. Melanie Scheible and Sen. James Ohrenschall pressed officials for specific examples warranting inmates to be stripped from the protections provided under state law.

There were none. 

“We have not had any problems or any indications of problems, but we are trying to be forward thinking,” Wickham said.

The ACLU of Nevada, the prison advocacy group Return Strong  and the Rape Crisis Center all testified against the proposal, arguing there are better ways to address NDOC’s concerns than excluding incarcerated individuals from state legal protections.