- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 13, 2015

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - Nevada needs to move away from the routine use of shotguns in its prisons and continue adding staff, according to an outside consultant’s report released Tuesday amid criticism of guards’ use of force.

The study, written by the Association of State Correctional Administrators, offers 10 recommendations for Nevada’s prison system, including ramping up staffing, clarifying policies on how to respond to fights among inmates, and training guards on how to use pepper spray.

“This review makes numerous good and sound recommendations,” state officials said in a detailed written response document, adding that they don’t agree with everything in the study.

The report was commissioned in May as the state faces multiple lawsuits over prison shootings in the past few years, including one at High Desert State Prison that left inmate Carlos Manuel Perez Jr. dead on Nov. 12. Plaintiffs say Perez was handcuffed when he was shot and killed, and accused prison guards of creating a “gladiator-like scenario” by letting inmates fight before firing into the fray.

It wasn’t widely known that Perez died from gunfire until four months afterward.

“There are issues. That’s why we asked for this report,” Gov. Brian Sandoval said last month. “I want to make sure that our Department of Corrections is following the best practices that are current nationally.”

The report says the state’s prison system has the highest ration of inmates to staff in the country, at 12:1, although corrections officials dispute that number and argue that the ratio of active guards to inmates is below the national average of 6:1. Sandoval’s chief of staff, Mike Willden, said the Legislature approved hiring 100 new staff members over the next two years and the state just hired the first batch of new employees earlier this month.

The report also analyzed the use of shotguns in six of the state’s major prisons. From 2012 to 2014, bird shot or blanks were fired 208 times in those prisons, consultants said.

All guards should have batons, pepper spray and handcuffs available to defuse fights before a shotgun is necessary, the report said. Corrections officials also said they added rubber pellets to their arsenal at High Desert State Prison - the one where force is most often used - and plan to issue them at other prisons to reduce the need for bird shot.

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