LAS VEGAS (KLAS) – Seven individuals, which are both current and former inmates, have filed a lawsuit against the Nevada Department of Corrections after they said they received burns while cleaning up after a fire.
One of the plaintiffs sat down for an interview with the 8 News Now Investigators.
“When you’re behind those walls, you’re not a person no more, you’re a number, and that’s how we truly felt,” she said.
The plaintiff is no longer in prison after serving time for child abuse. The ACLU, which represents the plaintiffs, asked 8 News Now not to identify the woman out of a concern that the convicted felon’s employment would be jeopardized.
In addition to the Department of Corrections, the State of Nevada, Nevada Division of Forestry, NDOC Director James Dzurenda, State Forester Kacey KC, and three other state employees are named as defendants in the lawsuit which was filed last March.
The Division of Forestry and Department of Corrections “partner to train incarcerated people at low-security facilities in firefighting and then press those people into dangerous service on behalf of the state,” the ACLU wrote in the complaint. Inmates are paid approximately $1 an hour, according to the ACLU.
The ACLU also referred to training and equipment as dangerously deficient.
All of the plaintiffs were previously housed in the Florence McClure Correctional Center before being moved to the Jean Conservation Camp to participate in the program.
“A lot of us dealt with drug addiction in the past, violence in relationships, you know, just, you know, not very good self-confidence,” the plaintiff said. “Pushing ourselves to the limits, I can do this, I can do this, was basically just building us, you know, for the outside.”
She said participation in the program meant more privileges.
On April 20, 2021, her crew was sent to help clean up a fire near Laughlin. When the inmates began to experience pain in their feet and expressed this, the woman said their concerns were not addressed.
“I started feeling like I couldn’t walk,” she added.
The following day, when the crew was expected to head back to the fire and the woman said that she physically couldn’t, the staff also realized something was wrong.
“The lieutenant came in, was panicked, asked if anybody else was hurt and I was like, ‘Yeah, my whole crew,'” she said.
After what felt like a long wait, the inmates were taken to University Medical Center in Las Vegas where they were treated for burns, according to the plaintiff.
The Inspector General investigated and cited second-degree burns on the inmates’ feet and found that the oldest boots were from 2013. At least one of the boots had a melted-off heel, according to the Inspector General’s report.
Athar Haseebullah, the executive director of the ACLU of Nevada said that the plaintiffs should be compensated.
“I know some folks are going to say, well, you know, ‘They were in prison. They should not have compensation,'” he said. “That’s a silly argument. They didn’t sign up to basically have their feet burned and torched in this manner.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Corrections declined to comment due to the pending litigation.
The department has downsized the program citing in part a lack of inmates who qualify for it. 362 inmates are currently in the conversation camps program and 120 are available to respond to wildfires, according to the Division of Forestry.