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Lovelock prison shuts down education — with no warning (opinion)

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Editor’s note: The Nevada Department of Corrections did not respond to the allegations contained within this article.


Submitted by an NDOC inmate through Gordon Gossage of Regenesis Reno

The Nevada prison made famous for once housing O.J. Simpson – suddenly announced to inmates on June 15, 2023 that its Education Department had been shut down indefinitely.

The plan ahead as discussed by Tim Garett, Lovelock’s warden and custody staff only foresees a program of distance learning from prison cells using tablets while inmates sit on their bunks during a perpetual state of lock-down.

The frequency and duration of lock-downs in the prison have skyrocketed due to the shortage and lack of applicants willing to fill hundreds of low-paying positions in the toxic work environment created by the dismal quality of Nevada’s prison administration. 

This comes on the heels of two major recent advances for inmates seeking college degrees. Last year, the federal government made financial aid and grants available to prisoners. In Nevada, lawmakers voted to allow inmates limited internet access for educational purposes. 

“This was my first chance to get an Associate Degree in Business Administration,” said one inmate, who asked not to be identified due to fear of retaliation from prison officials. “I get out in a couple of years. I hoped a college degree would help me get a good job and stay out of prison.”

Prison officials reportedly told inmates that unauthorized media – movies, music, and pornography – had been discovered on computer servers accessible by inmates with work assignments in the Education Department. Before that time, inmates were prohibited from accessing the internet for any reason under Nevada law. 

“One of the computer techs hired by the prison administration misused a computer”, said an inmate in Lovelock. “They told all the other inmate-educators they had been cleared in the investigation. After that, the entire group was fired, and the school was completely shut down.” 

This closing is estimated to waste the $750,000 taxpayers have already paid for in a program clearly demonstrated to lower rates of re-offending. 

A lobbyist familiar with the matter found irony in prison management’s recent actions.

“The intent of the legislation has been to bring inmates into the 21st Century,” said a member of the lobbying firm focused on prison reform. “Nearly 90% of offenders will return to society and need to have basic technology skills to even have a chance at being modestly successful.”

She also explained the action by Lovelock prison officials moved directly opposite the clear intent of the legislature. Instead, the power to address technology needs of the inmates returning to society was twisted by Warden Tim Garrett and Associate Warden Kara LeGrand to shut down all of the computer labs and training available to inmates.

Under Nevada law, prisoners get time off of their sentences for participating or completing educational programs. This includes inmates pursuing a GED high school equivalency diploma, vocational certifications, and college degrees. Inmates also receive time off their sentences for accepting work assignments as tutors or teacher’s assistants.

“Inevitably, inmates here will now both be in prison longer and are more likely to return”, said another Lovelock inmate. “Education is widely accepted as one of the best tools we have to reduce the rate of reoffending.”

To add to the injury, the high school is now down to only two teachers from the previous seven. Along with the termination of a dozen inmate instructors, most of whom had college degrees, the school will not be able to function for the foreseeable future. 

“We just don’t get it,” commented another inmate. “These teacher’s assistants work for about $50 a month. They only get $30 after room, board, and other charges, but their skills are vital to the success of the school. Now they’ve been thrown out of the school along with the programs they’ve developed for two decades, just because of an incident they had nothing to do with. Then the associate warden shuts everything down, ruining our degrees.”

The loss to the taxpayer is not minor. Over a dozen years of development, the Lovelock Education Department has assembled computers, smart boards, projectors, textbooks, network servers, software, and other resources. These are all already paid from taxpayers and public school funds. This doesn’t include the thousands of hours of customized programming created by inmates to build educational opportunities unusual within a prison.

“If the Education Department can’t operate as it has for the last decade, then the taxpayer investment in inmate education and programming will be wasted. 

One inmate summarized saying: “What’s clear to us is the future of prison education is solitary confinement.”

Submitted opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of This Is Reno. Have something to say? Submit an opinion article or letter to the editor here.

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