Tag Archives: Settelmeyer

The Great Food Fight of 2009

Food trayA prison is a building in which people are legally confined as punishment for a crime. A Penitentiary is a place for socially sanctified punishment, reformation, and discipline.  There’s just enough difference between the two definitions to create some controversial space.

If the function is purely disciplinary then the absence of educational, mental health, and reformatory services isn’t all that important.  However, this perspective ignores an obvious reality:  Most of the individuals incarcerated by the State of Nevada are going to eventually be released.

Of the 13,110 inmates reported as of November 28, 2013:  0.63% have an “active death sentence.” 21.42% are serving an “indeterminate,” or life sentence.  [DOC pdf]  Therefore, 77.95% of those currently residing in Nevada’s prisons are going to return to general society.  We know they were car thieves, or drug sellers, or spousal batterers, or whatever sort of felon when they were sentenced.  The question which needs to be asked after sentencing is — What are they going to be when they get out?

The Exemplary 2009 Food Fight

In October 2013 Corrections Director Greg Cox,” noted that per inmate costs are $19,907 a year, which he said was “on the low side.” California inmates costs are $24,000 per inmate, he added. Nevada inmates are allotted just $2.54 per day for food, with the same menu used at all prisons.” [LVRJ]

For those of the “prison perspective the $2.54 is too much.  In 2008 Republican legislator James Settelmeyer took his cue from Arizona, proposing further food service cuts:

“Settelmeyer, like many fans of harsher prison settings, points to the work of Arizona’s Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who likes to brag he feeds inmates for 30 cents a day, even though the truth is something more like $2 and some change. Arpaio has managed to cut back food costs, Settelmeyer said, and “make prison just a little bit less enjoyable.” [LVSun]

Thus Assembly Bill 228 was introduced in the 2009 session of the Nevada Legislature.  The confluence of diet and punishment emerged in the committee hearings.  [NevLeg pdf]  Assemblyman Horne asked about the differentiation between high risk inmates (who spend about 23 hours locked in) and those in lower risk categorizations (who are allowed more time out of their cells.)  Indeed, prison would be a ‘less enjoyable’ experience for those who could assemble with others for meals, as opposed to being in their cells for a distribution of a cold breakfast.  Horne noted that ‘privileges’ such as being allowed yard and meal time was a tool used by prison management to promote cooperation, and that the removal of such ‘tools’ would create both morale and management problems.

Secondly, Horne ask about the procurement process, observing that local businesses were the ones supplying the breakfast items, and suggested that the loss of these contracts would result in a decline in the revenues for local businesses.  Nevada, unlike some neighboring states, purchases food products locally.

A third major cautionary segment concerning the Arpiao Promoters came to the fore when those who were actually involved in prison food service spoke of food handling and transportation issues, and nutritional issues such as finding a protein substitute for eggs — at possibly greater expense.  The hearing closed after Assemblyman Settelmeyer agreed to receive several friendly amendments and others offered to secure more information.  The bill died in committee.

If nothing else, the 2009 Food Fight illustrated the difference between the theoretical and ideological arguments of the Tough Guy approach — punishment first — elements, and the perspectives of those who actually have to deliver food services to the prison population.  First, Settelmeyer and his supporters were careful to couch their proposal in “cost savings” language.  Food, Settelmeyer observed, should not be used as a form of punishment.  However, the actual cost savings became less clear as the practical details involved in the actual delivery of food to such institutions as the High Desert prison were explained.  Nor was the cost savings any more apparent when food service professionals tried to explain the nutritional basics for any institutional meal plan.  The question was not revived in the 2013 session.

The low tier-high tier differentiation between prisoners in a single institution as described in the Food Fight of 2009  may also mirror the larger systemic situation.  The last audit report published for 2010-2011 (pdf) indicates that 17.32% of Nevada’s prisoners were “minimum security,” and another 61.62% were “medium security” inmates.  17.85% of inmates were categorized as “close security,” and only 3.22% were said to require “maximum security.”  Thus, some 78.94% of Nevada inmates required less than close or maximum security — the form of imprisonment most often imagined by proponents of the Tough School.

Alternatives

Taking a step further — there are alternatives under which the state of Nevada would have even fewer inmates to house and to feed.  For example, the maintenance of Mental Health Courts could be utilized to screen those whose psychological/psychiatric issues are better addressed by hospitalization or out-patient treatment than in a prison context.  Likewise the expansion of Veterans Treatment Courts could better serve former members of the armed forces who are suffering from service related trauma, substance abuse issues, and other mental illness concerns.

Speaking of Specialty Courts, “Nevada has 46 Specialty Court programs: 29 urban and 17 rural programs. These 46 programs include 17 adult drug courts including, diversion and child support, 3 family drug courts, 3 mental health courts, 6 juvenile drug courts, 2 prison re-entry courts, 6 DUI courts, 5 hybrid DUI/drug courts, 1 prostitution prevention court, 1 veterans treatment court, and 2 habitual offender courts.” [NVJS] What might we achieve if we allocated more resources to these Specialty Courts?

We might also take a look at the way we prosecute individuals in Category B felonies, for which there is a one year minimum to twenty year maximum sentence in Nevada.  One element is that a person has been convicted of “multiple felony convictions.”  Granted that gang recruitment is nothing we want to encourage, but a person could be incarcerated under Category B for a combination of gang recruitment by an adult plus setting fires to some unoccupied structures or landscaping (third degree arson).  Under the expansive definition of Category B’s “multiple” concept a string of drug possession convictions could result in “multiple felony convictions.”  If we’d step back from the Throw the Book at them mentality, and seek alternatives such as Drug Courts, and more emphasis on rehabilitation services, there might be fewer Category B felons in need of housing by the state of Nevada.

In short, Nevada’s prison population trends are generally downward, thereby keeping the budget pressures from building as they did in 2010.  Some thought expended on how to resolve issues leading to criminal behavior AND reducing the costs of incarceration would be a good exercise in the 2015 legislative season.

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Tenther Sighting in Nevada Legislature

SJR 3

For those inclined to believe that the Assembled Wisdom in Carson City, NV is  somehow immune from the conspiracy theorists whose adherence to a radical interpretation of the  10th Amendment is tantamount to the faithful offering up sacrifices to the Exodus 32 model golden calf — they aren’t.  The Republican Central Committee of Carson City is pleased to inform us they are enthusiastically supporting SJR 3, a perfect recitation of the Tenther’s Ideal.  The Elko Daily Free Press offers a bit more information on the subject, regarding the intent of the sponsor, Assemblyman Settelmeyer:

“Senate Joint Resolution 3 proposes Nevada claim sovereignty as a state and order a cease-and-desist for all federal mandates deemed beyond those enumerated in the Constitution.  Settelmeyer provided examples of the federal government deeming 2,500 acres in Douglas County a flood plain, even though there is no record of flooding in the area, and changing arsenic regulations for water.”

Will you have that with or without the arsenic? There are some problems with Assemblyman Settelmeyer’s assessment.  Yes, moving from 50 ppb to 10 ppb as acceptable levels for arsenic in drinking water is difficult in some areas in which arsenic is a naturally appearing phenomena.  However, it’s not like 10ppb is an impossible goal.  Arsenic is an accumulative poison. It is not good for human beings.  It really isn’t something that ought to be present in the water we drink, much less in the water we use to mix infant formula.  But, it’s not an impossible problem.  There are several ways in which arsenic contamination can be abated.  Blending water from wells with varying levels of arsenic is one possibility, and there are arsenic treatment technologies which can be applied to mitigate the problem.

Better still, that self-same Federal government which establishes the acceptable levels is also the  source of funding for arsenic abatement projects.  Local water systems may have to support research into their arsenic issues; may have to try several options before the problem is mitigated; and, may have to expend some funds to arrive at a solution.  The point that Assemblyman Settelmeyer is missing is that much of the engineering and technological assistance needed to meet the arsenic level requirements is funded by grants or low interest loans from the Federal Government.

Assemblyman Settelmeyer’s “solution” appears to be to address arsenic contamination by rejecting the federal standards as “unconstitutional” and letting the state declare whatever “standards” might be convenient for local water suppliers.  This solves every problem EXCEPT for the arsenic in the water.   What? You don’t want Granma’ or the infant in the family drinking arsenic contaminated water?  The obvious solution in Settelmeyer Land would be to move the family?

As to the floodplain designation… it’s a matter of insurance, as explained by NFIP:

 “Since standard homeowners insurance doesn’t cover flooding, it’s important to have protection from the floods associated with hurricanes, tropical storms, heavy rains and other conditions that impact the U.S.  In 1968, Congress created the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to help provide a means for property owners to financially protect themselves. The NFIP offers flood insurance to homeowners, renters, and business owners if their community participates in the NFIP. Participating communities agree to adopt and enforce ordinances that meet or exceed FEMA requirements to reduce the risk of flooding.”

In order to get flood insurance a property owner must live in a community which participates in the National Flood Program, and Douglas County, NV has been aligned with the program since 1975.    The mapping is an important component of the insurance system:

“Through its Flood Hazard Mapping Program, FEMA identifies flood hazards, assesses flood risks, and partners with States and communities to provide accurate flood hazard and risk data to guide them to mitigation actions. Flood Hazard Mapping is an important part of the National Flood Insurance Program, as it is the basis of the NFIP regulations and flood insurance requirements.  FEMA maintains and updates data through Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) and risk assessments.  FIRMs include statistical information such as data for river flow, storm tides, hydrologic/hydraulic analyses, and rainfall and topographic surveys.  FEMA uses the best available technical data to create the flood hazard maps that outline your community’s different flood risk areas.”

Insurance is all about calculating risk, and different flood risk areas determine insurance availability.   So, what’s the issue?

“Homes and businesses with mortgages from federally regulated or insured lenders in high-risk flood areas are required to have flood insurance. While flood insurance is not federally required if you live in a moderate-to-low risk flood area, it is still available and strongly recommended.” [FloodSmart]

If the area involved in Assemblyman Settelmeyer’s critique hasn’t flooded recently, then the property isn’t a “high risk flood area,” and flood insurance would not be required  for a federally regulated or insured lenders mortgage.  Further, if a property owner has land which is unlikely to be flooded a designation can be altered to accommodate the property owner. [Floodsmart] What Assemblyman Settelmeyer appears to be lamenting is that property owners of the 2,500 acres in Douglas County are eligible to purchase flood insurance IF they want to from a local insurance agent.  Now, why might they want to?  The insurance industry has some advice:

“Although flood insurance can be relatively inexpensive depending on where you live, most Americans neglect to purchase protection. Yet your home has a 26 percent chance of flooding as opposed to the 9 percent chance of fire during the course of a typical 30-year mortgage, according to the NFIP. Almost 25 percent of all flood insurance claims come from areas with low to moderate flood risk.” [Insure.Com]

The insurance sector has also made the following pertinent calculation: “Areas with a 1% chance of flooding in a given year are considered high-risk areas. At least 25% of homes in high-risk areas flood at least once during the term of a 30 year mortgage. Many flood more than once.”

Note that the NFIP offers insurance eligibility in designated areas.  The federal government doesn’t sell flood insurance, a home or business owner buys the policy from participating private insurance companies.   What would this mean for persons in Settelmeyer’s example, those property owners in Douglas County?

“Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHA) are defined as the area that will be inundated by the flood event having a 1-percent chance of being equaled or exceeded in any given year. The 1-percent annual chance flood is also referred to as the base flood or 100-year flood. These FEMA flood zones are typically x-shaded, A, AO (with a depth associated), and AH, and AE.

The non-technical and simplified definition of a Floodplain is “an area adjacent to a body of water.” But using this definition to determine if your property is in a floodplain is deceiving. You may be located five miles or more from a river or stream and find your house covered with water from the overflow of their banks. Floodplains have varying characteristics and may not be easily identified as such. The FEMA flood zones for a floodplain are typically AE and AE-floodway.” [Douglas County]

The instructions in the information offered by Douglas County refer to maps which are available for inspection at the planning office.  Notice that the insurance industry’s 1% rule applies to eligibility for flood insurance in high risk areas.   One thing omitted from this explanation is that a flood somewhere a bit distant from the home owner’s property can cause a sewer back up right there in the old homestead — which would be covered IF the property owner bought flood insurance.   So, why would anyone object to eligibility for flood insurance?

Perhaps the answer lies not with the property owner, but with the property developers?  Douglas County has some special provisions:

“Floodplain development permits, Special requirements for land division in SFHAs, and Standards for Construction in the SFHA and Floodplain are all covered in Title 20.50 Floodplain Management of the Douglas County Consolidated Development Code. Douglas County has had floodplain regulations since 1974 and also participates in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) Community Rating System (CRS) in order for property owners to acquire discounted flood insurance. As a participating community, the County must follow the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regulations at a minimum for the permitting of construction within the special flood hazard areas.”

One might speculate that a developer might not want to abide by standards adopted by Douglas County for development permits under Title 20.50?

In short, Assemblyman Settelmeyer’s “solution” to the sovereignty issue would have two immediate results — both related to the examples he provides — both of which are bad news.  (1) Those communities in his area seeking to mitigate arsenic contamination in drinking water supplies would be ineligible for federal funding assistance in mitigating or eliminating the hazard; and, (2) property owners in parts of Douglas County whose residential or business property might be determined to be located in flood plain management areas would not be eligible to participate in flood insurance programs.   Thus much for “sovereignty” if a man’s home is his castle — but the moat has moved inside.

***

*SJR 3 is sponsored by Settelmeyer, Gustavson, Hutchison, Cegavske, Goicoechea, Wheeler, Grady, Hansen, Kirner and was refered to the Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections on February 6, 2013. It was heard by the committee on February 19, 2013 with no action taken. [pdf notes]

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