Nevada inmates wage hunger strike over rule changes in Ely

Nevada inmates wage hunger strike over rule changes in Ely
(Photo: Nevada Department of Corrections)

By SAM METZ AP / Report for America

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — A dozen inmates at Ely State Prison in eastern Nevada have been on a hunger strike to protest recently implemented policies that limit what items they can purchase while they are segregated from the general prison population for disciplinary, protective or administrative reasons.

The Nevada Department of Corrections said Thursday that it was monitoring the health of 12 strikers and implemented the changes in policy after inmates used canteen items or product containers to assault or hurl substances at correctional officers.

“As of 3 p.m. on July 1, 2021, 12 inmates were individually participating in a hunger strike. Not all inmates started their individual hunger strikes at the same time, and some who started have since returned to normal diets. All inmates are being monitored by medical staff as per department and institutional policy,” said Teri Vance, the department’s spokesperson.

More than 1 in 5 of Ely State’s 655 inmates are held in the prison’s segregation housing wings. Department policy allows prisons to implement emergency limits in administrative segregation housing on items that are provided to the general population on a temporary basis — including items from the canteen or from the prison’s package program.

Inmates still have the right to hygiene-related products and to receive correspondence. In addition to department policy, officials also referenced Senate Bill 22, a recently passed state law about how much money can be garnished from inmates’ personal funds. The bill says the department “may” restrict the delivery of packages to individual offenders in segregation housing if “the prohibition is necessary to ensure the safety of other offenders.”

American Civil Liberties Union Nevada Policy Director Holly Welborn said attorneys had been in contact with the striking inmates. She said the law was meant to expand access to the package program and argued it shouldn’t be used on top of existing policy to add restrictions.

“The department has not demonstrated evidence that the individuals engaged in the strike present a danger to other persons. We encourage the attorney general to discuss this misinterpretation of the law with their client, the NDOC,” Welborn said in a statement.

The strike follows a 2018 hunger strike that Nevada inmates waged at the Saguaro Correctional Center, a private prison in Eloy, Arizona, that houses offenders from multiple states.

Sam Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America  is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.