LAS VEGAS (KSNV) — Twenty-three hours. That's how long a person in segregation remains in a prison cell every day.
Sometimes it's because they got in trouble while behind bars. Other times, it could be because they are waiting to go to another facility, or they have health problems requiring them to be separated from other inmates.
The ACLU of Nevada compiled what it calls a story-banking project titled “23 Hours." Creators talked to inmates all over the state about their experiences in isolation, and how they say staffing issues are keeping them segregated for months at a time.
"I’m irreparably damaged. Psychologically, spiritually depraved,” says Kentrell Welch, who’s serving a life sentence at Ely State Prison. “How do I hang onto reality? What is reality?"
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Welch says he’s been kept in isolation for 30 months. He’s one of more than 1,000 prisoners in segregation inside Nevada’s facilities.
Joshua Chavira’s faced similar circumstances at High Desert State Prison.
"Being in a cell all day in your bed, it's hard on my body, and hard on my mind. I don’t have anyone to talk to,” Chavira said. He was in isolation on and off for 34 months before recently returning to the general population.
The ACLU of Nevada says it noticed that problems from putting prisoners in administrative segregation got worse during the pandemic.
Administrative segregation does not always mean an inmate faced disciplinary issues.
Kiki Angratok is a creator of the 23 Hours project. She says it’s “a combination of being understaffed and trying to uphold the same standards that they had before."
Angratok also says there are people who have not been able to be out of their cells for weeks, and it’s even longer since the pandemic began.
The ACLU put a team together to find out what inmates face in segregation. They collected stories, surveys and responses, all of which shed light on what inmates call "a prison within a prison."
ACLU staff say the biggest difference between segregated housing and normal housing is that inmates in segregation generally do not leave their cells for 23 hours a day. They also need three guards to escort one person out of the cell.
Angratok and Ryan Vortisch are two faces behind the “23 Hours” project. They say the results were alarming.
"It is jolting to hear some people talk about their experiences,” Angratok said, “So much of it doesn't feel just- it doesn't feel consistent."
Another concern is the long-term effects of prolonged isolation.
"The number one problem is a lot of inmates that are held in solitary aren't in on life sentences,” Vortisch said. “They are going to be released at some point. They have no way to prepare for being let back out into the world.”
The goal of the project is to get Nevada’s leaders to pay attention and put a cap on the amount of time someone can spend in segregation, the ACLU says.