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 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 80 percent of funds sent to prisoners to pay restitution to crime victims. Until then, the state had seized 20 percent. The State Prison Board suspended the new policy after an outcry from prisoner advocates, and prisoners and their families.
About 18 percent of prisoners owe restitution to victims, and before the recent change, those monies were deducted primarily from work-release earnings. Prisoner advocates from the ACLU and the Nevada Attorneys for Criminal Justice had joined prisoners’ 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 prisoners and their families regarding the policy. One letter from an inmate read at the 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.
Prisoners 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 prisoner’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.
But on January 25, 2021, the State Prison Board agreed to again take part of money sent to prisoners, though it reduced the maximum cut to 50 percent. “We closely evaluated all deductions allowable by statute, and the percentages that have been and could be applied, to focus our efforts in finding a balance with being compliant with the intent of Marsy’s Law, while alleviating the strain on inmates and their loved ones,” Venus Fajota, chief of purchasing and inmate services for the state prison system, said at the meeting during which the announcement was made.
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