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Nevada prisons discriminate against inmates with disabilities, HIV, Justice Dept. says

By Doug G. Ware
Nevada prisons discriminate against inmates with disabilities, HIV, Justice Dept. says
The U.S. Department of Justice on Monday sent a letter to the office of Nevada's attorney general that detailed a compliance investigation into the state's prisons system that found purported discriminatory practices against inmates that violate the U.S. Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990. The Justice Department's investigation cited violations against inmates with disabilities and those infected with the HIV virus. Photo by Nagel Photography/Shutterstock

WASHINGTON, June 20 (UPI) -- A compliance investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice has determined that the Nevada state prisons system employs policies and practices that violate federal discrimination laws intended to guard rights of inmates with disabilities, officials said Monday.

The department's investigation found that the Nevada Department of Corrections has been in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which bars prejudicial practices.

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The report said one of three main findings is that prisoners with disabilities were not given equal opportunities to benefit from correctional programs at two Nevada facilities as inmates without disabilities.

Second, investigators said, is the illegal separation of prisoners with HIV and those without the virus. Third, inmates with HIV have been denied the employment opportunities given to uninfected inmates.

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"[Nevada's] segregation of inmates with HIV stigmatizes them while indiscriminately disclosing their confidential HIV status to NDOC employees and inmates," the Justice Department said in a news release Monday. "This segregation policy is without any legitimate health justification, as leading public health and correctional authorities, including the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, oppose the routine segregation of inmates with HIV as medically unnecessary."

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A letter from the U.S. Department of Justice Monday outlined reported violations found during a compliance investigation of the Nevada Department of Corrections with regard to the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990. Image courtesy U.S. Department of Justice

The ADA, passed in 1990, is a landmark civil rights law that seeks to protect American citizens from discrimination based on a disability.

"The ADA's promises of non-discriminatory treatment and equal opportunity apply to all people with disabilities, including inmates at correctional facilities," Vanita Gupta, of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, said. "No inmate should have to stay in segregated housing because of a HIV diagnosis or serve a longer sentence because of a disability."

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Justice officials said Nevada's prisons personnel cooperated with the compliance investigation and both parties will work to bring the system's policies and practices in-line with federal law.

A findings letter was sent by Rebecca Bond, chief of the department's Disability Rights Section, to Nevada Chief Deputy Attorney General Andrea Barraclough.

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"We hope to work cooperatively with you to resolve the Department's findings a!out the NDOC's discriminatory treatment of inmates with disabilities," Bond wrote, asking the NDOC to give notice of compliance by July 11. "Should we fail to agree on an appropriate resolution of this matter, the Attorney General may initiate a lawsuit."

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