LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — A Nevada Department of Corrections audit obtained by the 8 News Now I-Team found officials did not review most grievances involving excessive force. In addition, it shows an expensive, taxpayer-funded body camera program is going unused.
The performance audit from the Legislative Council Bureau also found corrections officers are oftentimes working without proper training.
As of March 2021, the department had an inmate population of more than 11,000 across 17 facilities. The audit said the department had a staff vacancy rate of 25% as of January.
The audit reports inmate and staff grievances, alleging excessive force, often go unheard. The audit found the department’s inspector general did not review most grievances filed. For those the office did review, “the review was not completed timely,” the report said.
Overall, the audit found the department’s use-of-force data “is not accurate, complete or reliable.”
Auditors picked 20 grievances from a total of 83 to test for review and timeliness. The department requires grievance responses made within 90 days. The audit found that two-thirds of the grievances were never reviewed. For the reviewed ones, it took an average of 274 days, or about 9 months, to process.
For the grievances that the office did respond to, the audit said it took an average of 164 days or about six months to respond.
“Grievances were not reviewed or were reviewed untimely because the IG’s office did not have an effective tracking process,” auditors wrote. “Furthermore, IG’s office staff was not properly trained to identify grievances referred through the department’s computer system.”
In addition, the audit found the department did not always convene a use-of-force review panel required by the department to review incidents.
“The panels are necessary to determine if the use of force was justified and consistent with the policies, procedures, and training of the department,” the audit said.
The department did not hold a review panel for about two-thirds of 25 use-of-force incidents the audit reviewed. In addition, two-thirds of review panels were untimely, meaning they were completed past the 45-day department-mandated timeframe. In one case, a review took more than a year to complete.
The audit found 514 use-of-force incidents for all of 2020. Most of the incidents occurred at High Desert State Prison, which has the largest inmate population, and Ely State Prison, which houses the most violent offenders.
The audit recommends more training in the department’s facilities. “The department used prospective officers to work in its facilities without proper supervision or training,” the audit said. “In certain instances, these personnel performed duties of certified peace officers, such as handling a post alone or working as a second officer in areas normally requiring two certified peace officers.”
The audit found some prospective officers were performing the work of fully trained officers. The report said that the department stopped having future officers work in its institutions as the audit was underway.
“Using prospective officers to perform duties of fully trained certified peace officers can be dangerous,” auditors wrote. “This practice puts all personnel at risk. For example, we identified two instances where inmates attempted to intimidate the prospective officers. In another instance, a prospective officer took leave without pay rather than work alone without a supervising certified peace officer.”
Some prospective officers were also found to have been part of use-of-force incidents, though department regulation forbids them from doing so.
The audit also found the department has no means of tracking employee training. In one review, auditors found the department could not find “documentation regarding specialized training for restraining pregnant and postpartum inmates” for a group of employees who handled the restraint of a “suicidal, postpartum inmate.”
In another review, six officers had TASERs, but there was no documentation of up-to-date training.
There was also no training provided on using a restraint chair, a device used to restrain a prisoner. There was also no department-wide regulation on when or how to use the chair.
“Furthermore, three of the seven institutions did not have an institution-specific policy for using the restraint chair,” the audit said. “The remaining four institutions adopted inconsistent policies regarding restraint chair use. Specifically, institutional policies differed regarding the circumstances when the restraint chair could be used, frequency of medical monitoring, maximum time of restraint, and staff authorized to extend the maximum time of restraint.”
A nearly $200,000 body camera program, which included the purchase of 71 cameras, is going unused.
The department spent the money and other fees to support the program in 2018 but the audit found that the body cameras are not being used.
“Requesting and receiving funds for items the department does not implement is wasteful,” the audit said.
“Waste is defined as the act of using or expending resources carelessly, extravagantly, or to no purpose.”
NDOC accepted 16 of the auditors’ recommendations and said several new procedures are in place, the department’s director wrote in a letter dated March 2.
The body cameras remain unused and could be repurposed or sold. The I-Team has reached out to NDOC and the governor’s office for comment.