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State of Nevada to settle PLN censorship suit

Review-Journal (NV), Jan. 11, 2016.


Board will consider paying to settle claim of censorship of prison publications

CARSON CITY — A state board Tuesday will consider paying nearly a half-million dollars to settle violations by the Nevada Corrections Department of a stipulation entered 15 years ago concerning censorship of prison publications.

The proposed settlement before the state Board of Examiners is the latest in a string of costly problems that have plagued the agency in recent years and led to the forced resignation of former Director Greg Cox.

In 2000, U.S. District Judge Howard McKibben granted an injunction against the Corrections Department, prohibiting prison officials from blocking prisoner access to Prison Legal News, a monthly magazine on criminal justice issues. Prison officials deemed it an inmate publication or newsletter prohibited by state regulation.

The state paid about $44,000 to settle that case and signed a stipulation saying prisoners are permitted to subscribe to publications of their choice, with some limitations and censorship depending on content. Only a warden was authorized to reject a publication.

The publication, a project of the Lake Worth, Fla.-based Human Rights Defense Center, has existed for a quarter century.

Paul Wright, the center's executive director, said Prison Legal News has about 9,000 subscribers, roughly 100 in Nevada. The center also sells books, from dictionaries and medical references to "how to" books on criminal defense, writing and grammar.

Two years ago, Prison Legal News went back to federal court, claiming Nevada prison officials were denying inmates access to the publication and other books in violation of the 2000 agreement.

"They were censoring our stuff and they weren't telling us about it," Wright said.

Under the previous agreement, "If they government is censoring publications or mail they have to tell both the sender and the intended recipient," he said. "They were not telling us at all."

A proposed settlement of $475,000 that includes costs and attorney fees will be considered by the state Board of Examiners led by Gov. Brian Sandoval. Other members include Attorney General Adam Laxalt and Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske.

Since 2010, the state has paid out $1.725 million in high-profile settlement cases with inmates, mainly over medical care. The latest settlement, if approved, would bring the total to $2.2 million, a figure that doesn't include smaller sums not requiring approval by the board.

Sandoval in September asked for the resignation of former prison boss Cox, whose tenure was marred by the handling of a fatal shooting by a correctional officer trainee of a High Desert Prison inmate in November 2014. The shooting was not revealed until four months later, when the Clark County coroner reported Carlos Perez was shot multiple times and ruled the death a homicide. Another inmate, Andrew Arevalo, was injured. Separate lawsuits are pending against the state for that incident.

Shootings at other prisons occurred in the following months, though none were fatal.

The state Board of Prison Commissioners, also chaired by Sandoval, meets Thursday and is scheduled to discuss the findings by an outside organization on use of force at Nevada prisons.

After Cox's departure, Sandoval named E.K. McDaniel, a 20-year department veteran, as interim director while a search was conducted for a permanent replacement. The governor on Monday said several applications, from inside and outside the department, were received and are under review.

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