Nevada prisons have added more guards and trained officers how to use rubber bullets in an effort to end deadly shootings behind bars, officials said Thursday, but they also defended the use of shotguns if all else fails.
The comments came as the Board of State Prison Commissioners followed up on an audit of prison use-of-force policies. The state faces lawsuits over prison shootings, including one at High Desert State Prison in 2014 that left an inmate dead.
“We really believe that the use of (shotguns) will be drastically reduced,” said Nevada Department of Corrections Interim Director E.K. McDaniel, calling birdshot “a last resort in saving people’s lives.”
Nevada commissioned an independent review of its prison policies in May, a few weeks after news broke that an inmate died after being shot. A lawsuit alleges Carlos Manuel Perez Jr. was handcuffed when he was shot and killed Nov. 12, 2014, and accuses prison guards of creating a “gladiator-like scenario” by letting inmates fight before firing into the fray.
It wasn’t widely known that Perez died from gunfire until four months afterward.
“There are issues. That’s why we asked for this report,” Gov. Brian Sandoval said in August. “I want to make sure that our Department of Corrections is following the best practices that are current nationally.”
The report, written by the Association of State Correctional Administrators, offers 10 recommendations for Nevada’s prison system, including ramping up staffing, clarifying policies on how to respond to fights among inmates, and training guards on how to use pepper spray.
The report’s authors said the Nevada prison system has the highest ratio of inmates to staff in the country, at 12:1. But McDaniel said the number is about half that when supervisory staff, who aren’t officers, are counted.
Lawmakers approved funding to bring on 100 new employees over the next two years, and McDaniel said the state is now placing its second batch of hires.
The report also recommended corrections officers have batons, pepper spray and handcuffs to defuse fights before a shotgun is necessary.
McDaniel said officers who have close contact with inmates are now equipped with the spray, and guards at all prisons have been trained on how to use rubber bullets.