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After Shootings, Gun Use In Nevada's Prisons Under Scrutiny

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High Desert State Prison

A shotgun blast rang through the halls of a Nevada prison in 2014, killing one inmate and injuring another. 

At the time of the shooting, both men had their hands cuffed behind their backs. High Desert State Prison blamed the death of Carlos Perez on Andrew Arevalo, the other inmate involved in the fight. 

The incident triggered a federal investigation and national scrutiny over gun usage inside Nevada's prisons.

Two weeks ago, state prosecutors charged the former correctional officer trainee who fired that blast at High Desert State Prison that killed Carlos Perez with two felony counts, including involuntary manslaughter. But it wasn't the first -- nor the last -- shooting inside a Nevada Department of Corrections’ facility.

Dana Liebelson is a writer for the Huffington Post, and wrote an in-depth story about the culture of guns inside Nevada’s prisons.

Liebelson called the practice of allowing prison guards to carry shotguns filled with birdshot “extremely rare.”

“The bird shot thing is unique to Nevada,” she said.

When used, the birdshot is not aimed at a prisoner but at the floor to bounce back up and it is only supposed to be used only when other forms of breaking up a fight or dispute haven’t worked.

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It is a technique that courts have said is legal. However, in California, where the practice was once used, lawsuits have all but eliminated it, according to Liebelson.

She also found the use of birdshot was not something that happened occasionally. Since 2015, shotguns were used in 14 incidents at High Desert and this year at least 22 inmates at three facilities were injured by shotgun blasts, Liebelson said.

“I found on average that officers fired a live shotgun round once every 10 days between January 1, 2012 and June 26, 2015,” she said.

According to Liebelson there aren’t even any statistics about shotgun use at other prisons to compare with Nevada because they just aren’t used, but at Nevada Department of Corrections, “it’s just policy.”

Liebelson said understaffing at Nevada prisons is one reason why the birdshot technique is still around while other states have abandoned it.

“I think that the state has relied on the use of birdshot in the past because there is just not enough guards or correctional staff,” she said. Liebelson admitted that the department of correction might dispute that assertion but it is what independent sources have told her.

She also said the technique hadn’t been questioned until now. 

Guests

Dana Liebleson, writer, Huffington Post 

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