Nevada Prison Shuts Down Anti-Drug Program

The Nevada Department of Corrections is shutting down a drug and alcohol treatment program run by an outside group amid charges including racial discrimination and pushing inmates into religious activities.

"I think programs like this are really important to the Department of Corrections, but we need to be conscientious custodians of our programs," said state prisons chief Glen Whorton.

Dorothy North of Vitality Unlimited, the nonprofit group that has run the WINGS program for eight years, said Whorton and his deputies made up the charges.

"They hate inmates and they hate programming," she said in defending the WINGS, or Willing Inmates in Nevada Gaining Sobriety, program.

Whorton said he's terminating the program because a probe by his
inspector general showed inmates being ordered to participate in religious activities and discrimination against minorities including blacks, American Indians and gays.

The report said some inmates even suffered physical abuse from
inmate mentors. Whorton said prison officials became suspicious
because of bruises and other injuries suffered by inmates participating in the program.

North said most of her staff members are minorities and that discrimination wasn't tolerated. She also denied the allegations of
physical abuse.

Whorton said because of the problems, there was no choice but to
terminate the WINGS contract, but North said, "It's all a bunch of lies." She added that Whorton cut off funding in July and Vitality Unlimited has put $140,000 of its money into the program since then.

Vitality Unlimited has until Feb. 18 to shut down and turn all of its inmate files over to the prison. Whorton said his staff is trying to finish up the current WINGS class, but the federal funding ends in May and unless the Legislature provides some money the program will disappear.

Whorton said the program, if funded, should be operated like a similar program at Southern Desert Correctional Center in Southern Nevada, which the Department of Corrections runs.

WINGS is a year-long program designed to break inmates of addictions before they return to society. There is room for 172 inmates in each class. It has been financed by federal grants and money from the inmate welfare account, but in recent years federal money has been reduced.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)