Inmate Internet access plan advances
March 12, 2009
CARSON CITY ” Nevada lawmakers advanced a plan Thursday that would allow some state prison inmates ” who lost the use of personal typewriters starting in 2007 ” limited access to the Internet.
Currently, inmates can’t use the Internet but have access to electronic library materials on CD-ROMs. Under AB34, they could get e-mail from approved senders, take online classes and access an electronic law library. They also could videoconference with state Parole Board commissioners for hearings, virtually visit with doctors and buy items such as digital music files.
The bill, which provides for monitoring of all e-mail traffic by prison staffers, was advanced to the full Assembly by the Committee on Corrections, Parole and Probation.
The plan is to set up kiosks where inmates could access incoming e-mails from approved senders and download MP3 digital files for a price. State Corrections Director Howard Skolnik said that secure types of kiosks are available on the market and used in prisons in other states.
“It’s the new technology,” said Skolnik. “We are aware of at least 14 states that have already implemented this type of programming. It’s bringing us into the 21st century, and I think the 21st century is a good place to be.”
“We’ll be making sure that everything we need to protect the system will be in place,” Skolnik said.
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The committee vote on the bill was 10-4. The opponents, all Republican, who questioned whether the change could impact prison security, included Assemblymen Ty Cobb of Reno, John Hambrick of Las Vegas, Don Gustavson of Sparks and Richard McArthur of Las Vegas.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada had proposed several amendments, including one stating that access to electronic technology shouldn’t replace inmates’ existing rights to in-person contact with attorneys.
But the attorney general’s office opposed those amendments, saying that prisoners’ rights to visitation are carefully controlled by the prison, and warning that to include language in the bill that says the state shouldn’t interfere with “existing visitation rights” could lead to a slew of lawsuits.
“I’ve always been under the understanding that your access to your attorney is a right,” said Assemblyman William Horne, D-Las Vegas.
Deputy Attorney General Janet Trout said that in some cases, inmates’ constitutional rights have to be severely curtailed.
“The department certainly does restrict visitation to certain individuals even if it’s family members,” Trout said. “We recognize this is one of the most risky parts of their business.”