by Mercedes Maharis
Although testimony was limited to five minutes each and many of us got cut off, we felt, before the five minutes had expired, parents and relatives of prisoners made very emotional statements. One woman appealed to the board to take care of a brother’s health problems at Ely and said to Nevada Department of Corrections Director Howard Skolnik words to the effect that she was going to be his biggest nightmare. Another complained about substandard dental care for her son.
A young woman whose son died years ago told his story. She wept along with members of the audience. A woman said she could not visit her son in Ely because they think she is a felon, but she is not. A mother said they should ask for food donations from groceries. The clothing issue came up – size 16 shoes for a son who wears 9 1/2?
A California nurse with nobody in NDOC (Nevada Department of Corrections) asked for compassion and better health care. Four Pahrump residents came to ask the governor to stop the building of a CCA prison in their town. A prisoner from NDOC years ago said that the correctional officers are overworked. Advocate Donald Hinton slammed the commissioners for not taking responsibility and action.
A mother in tears told of High Desert State Prison allowing only 50 visitors during visiting when Nevada prisoners need to keep family ties so badly and said families have to wait in line for an hour and a half to get in. Another mother asked to have all the wardens at Ely fired.
Two correctional officers in Las Vegas who are humane – one who has a lawsuit against the department himself – were there. They could not comment publicly, but they let me know afterwards that they are for firing Skolnik and E.K. McDaniel, the warden at Ely State Prison.
Perhaps the high point was Ralph Kenmore’s testimony. NDOC kept him years beyond his sentence, he said, presenting the documents to prove it. All his family died while he was in prison. “If I could have been given my earned time in the prison system, I could have saved my only son’s life.” He was brilliant – just released March 30, 2009!
Kim’s reading of Marritte Funches’ accounts of life at Ely State Prison was awesome. Tonja was able to present only a tiny portion of the inmate problems that had been reported to her, but she put 14 prisoners’ accounts on the record, she said. But our gal Kim in Las Vegas got to finish reading Marritte’s entire letter. It was also very emotional for everybody.
I got a retired attorney to read part of a letter from a woman in Holland but she only had time to cover the mission statement, which she thought was the most important. It confronts the commissioners with the fact that they are not doing their job of providing good health care for the prisoners. I personally put it in the hands of Deputy Secretary of State for Southern Nevada Robert E. Walsh, along with a copy of Maritte’s letter as well.
You could hear a pin drop as Kim read Marritte’s letter.
The audience clapped after several people’s testimony, including mine, for which I was grateful, but attendees in Carson City told us that the sound was turned off there during the clapping. Clapping and shouting out had never happened before, except once at a CURE meeting about 10 years ago when Director Jackie Crawford came to speak to parents and loved ones just after she came in as director. High hopes then, but little change ever occurred.
I think that the hearing went fabulously well. I believe that there were at least six people, maybe seven, who called for Skolnik’s firing – including me … well, I said we need new leadership in the director’s office and at Ely.
At its last meeting the Prison Board had discussed ousting Skolnik, but a vote did not come up. We were told the commissioners would discuss it after the public meeting.
So many people asked for Skonik’s and McDaniel’s firing, one would think that they will surely be gone. But Peggy Mace Johnson, former Nevada Democratic Party head, said that Commissioner Miller told her that Skolnik would remain until the legislative session closes on June 1. That’s all I know about Skolnik leaving. Surely McDaniel will go soon, too, because of the ACLU lawsuit in which he’s personally sued for the death of Patrick Cavanaugh, who was left in his cell to die of gangrene – to rot to death.
There was a beating involving two inmates and two officers on April 13, the night before the meeting at High Desert State Prison outside of Las Vegas. Channel 3, Las Vegas, reported a few details.
I showed photographs of past NDOC brutality to the commissioners. It was the perfect time to indicate the ongoing pattern of abuse and to point out that Nevada prisons are not accredited to professional standards of operations by the American Correctional Association! I asked for that at the legislature more than a decade ago.
Let’s keep our fingers crossed for victory that will push Skolnik and McDaniel out! Let positive change begin with accreditation to standards!
Here is my complete statement that I presented to the board … that I doubt they will ever read.
Statement by Mercedes Maharis presented April 14, 2009, to the Nevada Prison Board
TO: Nevada Board of Prison Commissioners
Attorney General Masto
Secretary of State Miller
FROM: Mercedes Maharis, MA, MS, MA, Hereford, Ariz., for the record
Lifetime member of Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE), Washington, D.C.
Past director of Nevada CURE
Co-founder of the Spartacus Project
Co-author of the Spartacus Project Report
DATE: April 14, 2009
We have become a nation of prisons, but how are we going to take care of our prisoners? We cannot.
What is the true cost of continued Nevada prisoner warehousing? It cannot be calculated.
Can a Nevada prison sentence become a death sentence? Yes, it can, and in many cases it has.
In the summer of 1971, the classic psychological Stanford Prison Experiment asked important questions: What happens when we put good people in an evil place? And does humanity win over evil, or does evil triumph?
The planned two-week investigation into the psychology of prison life had to be ended prematurely after only six days because of what the situation was doing to the college students who participated.
Guards became sadistic. Prisoners became withdrawn, depressed and showed signs of extreme stress and began behaving in pathological ways.
Here are four examples of sadistic, excessive force inside Nevada prisons that you may not have seen – worse by far than Abu Ghraib.
2. Defenseless, but shot in the back, unable to get prison medical employees to remove the buckshot causing severe migraine headaches. He currently has an open warrant in Florida. Would we be functional after such treatment?
4. Unarmed, but clubbed mercilessly, out now, his fate also unknown.
On the other side of the equation, there is the issue of the older prisoners devouring the younger ones through domination by fear and sexual assault.
Of the 50 or more outsiders who saw the Stanford prison experiment, only one participant, a PhD brought in to do interviews, ever questioned its morality. The link of this ignored social research is on Nevada Prisoner Voice for your review.
Yet, Nevada prisons continue defying logic and common sense.
The system is broken, as Assemblyman Segerblom stated April 2, 2009, at the Nevada Corrections Committee meeting.
UNLV (University of Nevada Las Vegas) criminologist and author Randall G. Shelden has thrown in the towel. He wrote last week that he has come to believe that change will never come from inside the Nevada prison system.
On Dec. 5, 2000, I appeared before the Nevada Prison Commission to address the lack of prisoner medical treatment, excessive use of force and late parole release. But these issues continue today with no relief in sight.
After reviewing thousands of Nevada prisoner letters and legal documents over the years, we think that the current administration policy and operations are preventing the positive changes that can alter prisoners’ lives, officers’ lives, the families’ lives of both and community progress.
This is why new leadership is essential in the director’s office and at Ely State Prison immediately. Tomorrow may be too late. Buildings instead of drug programs: ineffective and unacceptable.
The enclosed April 13, 2009, New York Times editorial states, “The most effective programs provide inmates with high-quality treatment in prison and continue treatment when prisoners return to their communities.
“Such programs have been shown to reduce both drug use and recidivism. But good programs are rare, according to a report earlier this year in The Journal of the American Medical Association.”
We ask you to provide critical drug treatment and education to every Nevada prisoner who needs it for the benefit of all. If you will not, send prisoners home under house arrest to get treatment and education.
Not recording or revealing current prisoner deaths in prisons is unacceptable morally and reveals insensitivity to human life. Five more deaths have occurred at Ely alone since June 4, 2007. See Nevada Prisoner Voice for death information.
There were 545 Nevada prisoner lawsuits in federal courts on Feb. 19, 2009. The bulk of the work for the federal court in Reno is from Nevada prison inmates at Ely State Prison.
These 20 positive changes will avoid future litigation and create a safer, productive environment for the benefit of all:
• Humane Nevada prison conditions
• Effective medical, dental and mental health care in Nevada prisons
• Immediate food, clothing, shelter and exercise relief
The recent reported food and milk reduction – two packets of dried milk down to one at Ely, for example – is unacceptable. Withholding food is inhumane. We also brought this up to the Governor’s Committee on Corrections about a decade ago, but still there is no relief.
Accreditation to professional standards – we also requested that at the legislature a decade ago. No standards for facilities is disastrous for prisoners and staff.
• National Commission on Correctional Healthcare (NCCHC) Accreditation
• American Correctional Association Accreditation
Concerning prisoner jobs:
• Expansion of Nevada prison industries and agriculture
• Termination of discriminatory practices in the Nevada prison industries’ classification process
• Minimum wages for prison workers
• Closure of all Nevada prison control units
• Termination of perpetual lockdown status for Ely State Prison, Ely, Nevada, with no due process regarding classification
NOTE: Administrative segregation is solitary confinement and highly destructive to the human psyche per expert psychiatrist Dr. Stuart Grassian’s 59 page report, “Psychiatric Effects of Solitary Confinement.” This report is also linked on the Nevada Prisoner Voice website.
• Removal of the civil justice system for Ely State Prison from White Pine County to Clark County, Nevada
• Termination of Mixed Classifications Policy and Practice to stop future sexual assault and rape
• Access to Nevada Department of Corrections’ Official Reports and Statistics
• Termination of Nevada prison censorship, including mail and retaliation for political activism
• Reinstatement of hardback books, typewriters, and regular pens for fair access to education and communications
• Introduction of personal netbooks as personal learning tools and to enable computer literacy
• Termination of mailroom personnel interference with U.S. mail
• The appointment of volunteer ombudsmen for each Nevada prison facility
• A Prison Monitor Corps of retired educators and business professionals whose duties include audit and oversight of the prison budget, time keeping, the grievance system
And lastly, the practice of confiscating family money without due process must be terminated. After reviewing Nevada Board of Prison Commissioners minutes from 1996 to the present day, we can find no record of the board ever discussing or carrying out this duty that NRS 209.382 mandates:
“The board shall take appropriate action to remedy any deficiencies that the State Health Officer reports after examination of medical, dental services, diet of offenders, sanitation and safety in institutions and facilities.” – NRS 209.382.
You must also reinstate the semi-annual health inspections, all but discontinued though they are still mandated by law. Otherwise, you will have failed to fulfill your jobs to protect the health and welfare of Nevada prisoners, wards of the state of Nevada.
If you will not do this, then you must send prisoners home today under house arrest and let their families find the health care that so many desperately need.
Prisoners are people, human beings with gifts and talents that can be uncovered with proper guidance under your wise supervision.
No to preventable suffering and deaths! No to prison officials’ medical malpractice! No to homicidal neglect! Yes to immediate positive change!
Commissioners, you have the power to see that Nevada prison officials and employees do no harm and that our prisoners return to society better than when they entered prison.
It is possible that the three of you could win the Nobel Peace Prize if you decide to empower our Nevada prisoners to succeed.
Mercedes Maharis MA MS MA, former director of Nevada CURE (Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants), can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about her work, visit Nevada Prisoner Voice.