by Daniel A. Rosen |
Nevada state officials recently suspended a Department of Corrections policy that used a victims’ bill of rights to take up to 80 percent of funds sent to inmates by family members.
Marsy’s Law was approved by Nevada voters in 2018 as an amendment to the state constitution. It’s a nationwide effort being passed state by state to protect the rights of crime victims, and that includes full and timely restitution.
In September of 2020, the Nevada DOC implemented a policy crafted by Director Charles Daniels that seized the funds sent to inmates to pay restitution to crime victims. The State Prison Board suspended the policy after an outcry from prisoner advocates, and inmates and their families
About 18 percent of inmates owe restitution to victims, and before the recent change, those monies were deducted primarily from work-release earnings. Prisoner advocates from the ACLU and Nevada Attorneys for Criminal Justice have joined inmates’ families to speak out about the change.
“Every family we’ve talked to who is being hit with this 80 percent deduction has stopped sending money,” said Nicholas Shepack, a fellow with the Nevada ACLU. “Marsy’s Law doesn’t actually require what they’re doing,” he noted.
“I don’t think it can be considered reasonable,” ACLU attorney Holly Welborn said of DOC’s deductions. “They have to consider their ability to pay.”
The Department of Corrections did not respond to a request for comment, but state Attorney General Aaron Ford and other officials said they didn’t understand how the policy was put into effect before the Board had a chance to vote on it, and why so much was being seized. “The question that we’re all having here is, why 80 percent?” Ford said. Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske said her office would be investigating how much was taken from inmates and why the policy was implemented, before the Prison Board revisits the policy.
State officials said nearly 100 letters were received from inmates and their families regarding the policy. One letter from an inmate read at the recent Prison Board meeting said the policy has created tensions and altercations inside prisons. “You have put all of us in a horrible position,” the letter said.
Inmates primarily use the funds sent by their families to supplement the inadequate hygiene products and meals provided by the facility. “The toilet paper they give out is not enough. The food is not enough,” said one inmate’s wife whose husband is serving time at High Desert State Prison. “The fact they are going to take from already limited resources of many families who are struggling because of the pandemic on top of that – it’s honestly a slap in the face,” she said.
According to the organization Marsy’s Law for All, founded by billionaire Henry Nicholas III, 10 other states have passed similar bills. ACLU advocate Shepack says Nevada is the only state to seize funds at such a high rate, and most don’t debit funds from family deposits. Florida limits deductions to pay restitution to just 10 percent of inmate funds.
“The intent of Marsy’s Law is to protect victims, not create them,” Shepack said.