Friday, September 28, 2012

Let’s Finally Abolish the Death Penalty in Nevada

By Dahn Shaulis, Ph.D. Nevada Department of Corrections Caseworker (2001-2007)

[This report is an update of a previous statement I made in 2010.]

The Governor of Nevada and the Nevada Legislature need to examine the Death Penalty so they can make a thoughtful decision about abolishing or maintaining capital punishment in 2013. In calling for an end to the Death Penalty in the Silver State, I present six major reasons why it should be abolished.  

1. First, and most importantly, the Death Penalty is a cruel and unusual punishment that violates contemporary standards of decency in the Western industrialized world. The US trails the worldwide long-term humanitarian trend to abolish the Death Penalty. Since World War II, nearly one hundred nations have abolished the Death Penalty or created long moratoriums. No other nation in the western industrialized world executes prisoners at the rate that the US does. Since 2007, the UN General Assembly has endorsed a worldwide moratorium of the death penalty. Most of the nations who use the Death Penalty have extensive human rights problems.

The US joins China, Vietnam, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Iraq as one of a few nations that continues to regularly execute people. Japan and Singapore are the only other highly industrialized nations to carry out executions.

Several religious organizations oppose the Death Penalty. The Vatican consistently opposes the Death Penalty. Methodists argue that “the Death Penalty denies the power of Christ to redeem, restore and transform all human beings.” Since 1961, the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations has called for a moratorium on executions. The Society of Friends, also known as Quakers, favors the world-wide abolition of the Death Penalty. Religious witnesses to executions such as Pastor Carroll Picket, a former Texas prison chaplain, have articulated the immoral and barbaric nature of killing people to show killing is wrong.

While The American Medical Association confusingly allows doctors to participate in executions, it also states “a physician, as a member of a profession dedicated to preserving life when there is hope of doing so, should not be a participant in a legally authorized execution.”

Former head of the Georgia Department of Corrections Allen Ault calls executions “the most premeditated murder possible” and asserts that it takes a lasting toll on many people, including the corrections workers who must do the killing.

The number of death sentences and executions have decreased significantly since their peaks in 1999, as further questions about the nature of the Death Penalty are examined. The number of people in the US sentenced to death has also been falling nationally from about 300 a year in the 1990s to about 120 people per year. Even in Texas, the number of people sentenced to death has been decreasing significantly since the life-without parole alternative was instituted in 2005.

Abolishing the US Death Penalty would not be unique. Executions were prohibited in the US from 1972 to 1976 after the Furman v. Georgia decision. In the last decade, the Supreme Court has determined that executions of low IQ individuals (2002) and juveniles (2005) violated the 8th Amendment and were unconstitutional. The US, though, continues to execute mentally ill people and non-citizens, which is a violation of international law. From 2007 to 2008, a national moratorium was placed until lethal injection questions could be answered.

Although many Americans favor the Death Penalty, 64% do not believe the death penalty serves as a deterrent and only 57% of Americans believe the death penalty is fairly applied. When respondents are given life without parole alternatives to the Death Penalty, the percentage favoring capital punishment falls below 50%. Race and education play a part in opposition to the Death Penalty. “Nonwhites” and people with more education are most skeptical of the death penalty; 56% of nonwhites oppose the Death Penalty. White people with racist attitudes are more likely to support the Death Penalty than those who have fewer racist attitudes (Unnever and Cullen, 2007). According to the Gallup Poll, almost all Americans (92%) believe that someone has been wrongly executed in the last five years.

Pro-Death Penalty proponents claim that this particular type of state-sponsored killing is about the rights of victims. But according to former Los Angeles District Attorney Gil Garcetti, the Death Penalty does not typically bring closure. It feeds retribution and revenge impulses rather than the positive values of redemption, rehabilitation and healing. Murder Victims for Reconciliation is one group that recognizes the importance of forgiveness and the possibility of redemption.  

2. The US Death penalty is inconsistent and arbitrary. I can tell you from my professional experience as a prison caseworker that Death Row does not house "the worst of the worst." Historically, the Death Penalty in Nevada has been fraught with injustice based on inequalities of race and class. "Mitigating" and "aggravating" factors are particularly racially biased (see this link)

While it’s difficult to know for sure that an innocent person has died in the Nevada Death Chamber, I do know that Victor Jimenez and Roberto Miranda were both released after serving years on Death Row. In 2006, Mr. Miranda settled out of court for $5,000,000.

 I can also tell you that anecdotally, one can look at those who have not received the Death Penalty, offenders such as Chaz Higgs and Darren Mack, and realize that the Death Penalty is not dealt out evenly. As ethics professor Jeffrey Reiman has documented in The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison, corporate and governmental actions which can cause much more social damage and death are not even considered capital crimes.

 In 2003, Illinois Governor George Ryan commuted sentences of all Death Row inmates after finding that the Chicago Police had used torture to exact confessions. Eight years later, Illinois eliminated its Death Penalty. In 2004, the state of New York’s Supreme Court ruled that its Death Penalty was unconstitutional and issued a moratorium. Legislatures in Montana, Nebraska and Maryland are within a few votes of eliminating the Death Penalty. In 2008, The Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment reported that (1) racial and geographic disparities exist in how the death penalty is applied, (2) Death Penalty cases are more costly than non-Death Penalty cases and take a greater toll on the survivors of murder victims, (3) there is no persuasive evidence that risk of execution is a deterrent to crime, and (4) the unavailability of DNA evidence in some cases opens the "real possibility" of wrongly executing an innocent person. In 2011, Oregon Governor Kitzhaber told reporters. “I refuse to be a part of this compromised and inequitable system any longer; and I will not allow further executions while I am governor.”

After conducting a three-year, eight-state study of the Death Penalty, the American Bar Association concluded that the administration of capital punishment is “a haphazard maze of unfair practices with no internal consistency," and called for a moratorium (ABA, 2006). The primary method of distinguishing those who receive the death penalty from those who do not is a state-by-state system of disparate aggravating and mitigating factors. States also vary widely in how prosecutions must act ethically and legally. Only a few states require prosecutors to provide full disclosure of evidence (i.e. exculpatory evidence) that could exonerate defendants.

The chance a person charged with a capital crime lives, dies, or walks away free largely depends on where the crime was committed and how much money the defendant has. Capital punishment is not permitted in the District of Columbia and 18 states: Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. New York, Kansas, and New Hampshire have not executed anyone since the 1973 moratorium. Colorado, Idaho, Nebraska, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming have not executed anyone in more than a dozen years. North Carolina has not executed anyone since 2006, after several Death Row prisoners were exonerated. California, with the largest death row, also has not executed a prisoner since 2006 and in 2012, its abolition is up for referendum.

Thirty four states allow the Death Penalty, but few states actually practice executions more than once every two years. Those states that do have regular executions (Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, Georgia, Virginia, Arizona, and Ohio) are traditional sites of slavery, racist lynchings, and white supremacy organizations.

The decline in death sentences has occurred in all four regions of the country over the past decade, with a 50% drop between 2000 and 2010.

About half of all recent US executions have occurred in only four counties, all in the state of Texas. In 2007, Texas held 26 of the 42 US executions, where the amount of money spent on appeals is miniscule. In 2008, 18 of 37 US executions were held in Texas. In many states, probation is a rare or impossible sentence for murder, yet until 2007, residents of Dallas County, Texas could receive probation for a murder conviction. The Dallas News found that it happened in Texas at least 120 times from 2000 through 2006. Legal loopholes made probation available even for killers with violent criminal histories, including previous murders. There were also cases in which prosecutors in Dallas County pursued murder charges despite strong self-defense arguments or weak evidence. Some defendants told The Dallas News that they accepted plea bargains because they feared being convicted. Incidentally, Dallas County has led the nation in the number of convictions overturned on DNA reviews (Dunklin, 2007).  

3. The Death Penalty serves as a symbol of racism, classism, and absolute state power in the US. In a justice system that is structurally racist and classist, the Death Penalty is unfairly and disproportionately meted out on poor people and people of color. Pro-Death Penalty advocates claim this form of state-sponsored killing is imposed on society’s most heinous criminals (incorrectly labeled as “the worst of the worst”), yet no serious scholars could argue that crimes are adjudicated in proportion to the damage and suffering they cause society (Reiman and Leighton, 2009). If the Death Penalty were applied in proportion to the deaths and social and economic damage created, a significant number of white collar criminals, business executives, and government officials would receive the Death Penalty. However, wealthy offenders rarely get the Death Penalty. Informants who can make deals and provide information are also spared and sometimes released. Serial killers who provide information on killings may also be spared and in extreme cases, released.

Pro-Death Penalty researchers do not deny that the application of the Death Penalty is racist (Shepherd, 2004) and classist. Racism pervades the criminal justice system, ranging from racial profiling prior to arrest to post-conviction representation. Unfortunately, in McCleskey v. Georgia (1987), the US Supreme Court ruled that state Death Penalty laws are constitutional even when statistics indicate they have been applied in racially biased ways. Justice Lewis Powell, who voted in the majority in McCleskey, soon regretted his decision, stating, “I have come to think that capital punishment should be abolished.”

There is an extensive body of literature indicating that due process is profoundly affected by economic class. Pro-Death Penalty advocates even agree that a viable defense is expensive and that it pays to be rich if you have been accused of killing someone. Eighty to 95% of all people on Death Row cannot afford a private lawyer. In an economy where one gets what he or she pays for, private attorneys often earn 2000% more money for a capital case than a court-appointed attorney. This has allowed wealthy men like Texas oilman T. Cullen Davis, real estate heir and state prosecutor Thomas Capano, real estate heir Robert Durst and banking heir John DuPont, the Menendez brothers (sons of an entertainment executive) for example, to avoid capital punishment or prison. An analysis of Georgia cases showed that prosecutors were almost twice as likely to ask for the death penalty when the defendant couldn't afford a lawyer.

The General Accounting Office (1990) reviewed more than 50 studies of race and punishment and found "a pattern of evidence indicating racial disparities in the charging, sentencing and imposition of the death penalty." The victim’s race is also important in whether one gets the death penalty. Juries are six times more likely to give the death penalty to those who have been accused of killing a white person. Thirty-four percent (34%) of all people executed in America since 1976 have been black.

Racism plays a huge role in determining who dies. In one glaring example, Texas law enforcement authorities picked Clarence Lee Brandley from among many suspects in a circumstantial case of rape and murder of a white woman. As authorities told Brandley- convicted but released in 1989 after being exonerated-"You're the nigger, so you're elected" (Cockburn, 1999).

Pro-Death Penalty adherents claim “any racial combinations of defendants and/or their victims in death penalty cases, is a reflection of the crimes committed and not any racial bias within the system.” These adherents base this argument from studies that do not explain why people of color are more likely to hold these aggravating factors. For example, robbery and burglary are the most common “aggravating factors” for earning a death sentence from a homicide. People from lower economic strata are much more likely to commit such crimes for economic reasons—not as planned murders.

Juries are not a random selection of the citizenry, but hand-selected individuals who all, without exception, must swear to favor the death penalty. Juries are more conviction prone than randomly selected citizens. In Dallas, Texas, the DA's office prepared a manual for new staff, which said: "You are not looking for a fair juror, but rather a strong, biased and sometimes hypocritical individual who believes that Defendants are different from them in kind, rather than degree...You are not looking for any member of a minority group which may subject him to suppression-they almost always empathize with the accused...Minority races almost always empathize with the Defendant (McCann, 1996)." The Death Penalty allows racist, sexist, and homophobic people to participate in the process while eliminating or minimizing others from the process (Butler, 2007).

Cases of judicial and prosecutorial racial animus are well documented (Cockburn, 1999). Texas has an infamous history of racist district attorneys and judges. In Texas, only white person has ever been executed for killing a black person. In Harris County, Texas, the District Attorney pursued the death sentence against black and white defendants at the same rate even though black defendants committed less heinous murders.

Additional points about race and the Death Penalty:

 • In 96% of the states where there have been reviews of race and the death penalty, there was a pattern of either race-of-victim or race-of-defendant discrimination, or both. (Baldus, 1998).

• 98% of the chief district attorneys in death penalty states are white; only 1% are black. (Pokorak, 1998).

• A comprehensive study of the death penalty in North Carolina found that the odds of receiving a death sentence rose by 3.5 times among those defendants whose victims were white. (Boger and Unah, 2001).

• A study in California found that those who killed whites were over 3 times more likely to be sentenced to death than those who killed blacks and over 4 times more likely than those who killed Latinos. (Pierce and; Radelet, 2005).

• No white person has been executed for the murder of a black in Georgia, nor has the death penalty ever been sought in such a case. Of the 12 African Americans executed in Georgia since 1983, six were sentenced in cases where prosecutors succeeded in removing all potential black jurors.  

4. In a comprehensive review, the National Academy of Sciences (2012) reported that there is no conclusive evidence the Death Penalty deters future murders. Some studies indicate that the Death Penalty may increase violence in some states because of its “brutalization effect. “

Eighty-eight percent of the former and present presidents of the country's top academic criminological societies say that the death penalty does not act as a deterrent to murder (Radelet and Lacock, 2009).

Studies suggesting the Death Penalty deters murders are seriously flawed and fail tests of robustness and replication. Columbia University law professor Jeffrey Fagan noted that these studies contain crucial technical and conceptual errors, including inappropriate methods of statistical analysis, failures to consider all relevant factors that drive murder rates, missing data on key variables in key states, weak to non-existent tests of concurrent effects of incarceration, and other deficiencies. University of Chicago Law School professor Cass Sunstein states that “existing studies contain significant statistical errors, and slightly different approaches yield widely varying findings, a problem exacerbated by researchers' tendency to report only those results supporting their conclusions.” Yale and Wharton professors John J. Donahue and Justin Wolfers state "We show that with the most minor tweaking of the [research] instruments, one can get estimates ranging from 429 lives saved per execution to 86 lives lost. These numbers are outside the bounds of credibility." UCLA researcher Richard A. Berk reports that studies showing the Death Penalty as a deterrent have a limited number of observations (executions are rare in most states). Berk suggests that Texas justice, where most of the data points exist, is the only place where executions may serve as a deterrent. Sorenson et al. (1999) questioned the deterrence value of executions even in Texas, finding no relationship between execution rates and murder rates.

According to Paul R. Zimmerman (2003), only electrocution, which is frequently horrific, has a deterrent effect. However, the electric chair is rarely used to kill people in the US.

Using more recent panel data, Kovandzic et al (2009) reported that the Death Penalty was not a deterrent.

Researchers argue that commuting sentences may result in increased deaths in the community. But this argument supports abolition of the Death Penalty in the long run, because commutations will undoubtedly occur. Many other factors appear to have much stronger relationships with homicide rates, including economics, better policing, age demographics, gun laws, and drug laws.

Some studies indicate that the Death Penalty may create a “brutalization effect.” In a study of 27 states, Emory researcher Joanna Shepherd (2005) reported that the Death Penalty deterred murder in six states, increased murder in 13 states, and had no effect on the murder rate in eight states. Shepherd added that this brutalization effect resulted in 250 additional murders per year or 5000 deaths from 1977 to 1996; she concluded that states like California should consider ending the Death Penalty to protect innocent people.

Older studies of the Death Penalty in Arizona and Oklahoma reported that executions were related to increased murders. States with the highest number of Death Row inmates and the highest execution rates have the most number of law enforcement officers killed. Psychologically, violent people may decide to kill more than one person, including police, if they know they may get the Death Penalty anyway.

Additional points about the Death Penalty and murders

• Death Penalty states consistently have higher murder rates than states without the Death Penalty. States without capital punishment have murder rates that are 30-40% lower than those that sanction state-sponsored killing.

• The murder rate declined in Canada after capital punishment was abolished.

University of Chicago economist Steven D. Levitt (2007) points out the “creative” use of data by Death Penalty proponents. Levitt adds that "no rational criminal should be deterred by the death penalty, since the punishment is too distant and too unlikely to merit much attention." State laws in the US vary in their definitions of "premeditation." In some states, premeditation can be interpreted as taking place a few seconds before the murder. Burglars and robbers, for example, rarely plan to murder, but situations get out of control and people may be killed. The offenders who do make advanced plans are often involved in heavily emotional situations and are not focusing upon the consequences. Those realities, along with the fact that most offenders feel they will never be caught, negate the effects of deterrence for most offenses.  

5. The Death Penalty is financially costly. California is estimated to have spent more than $4,000,000,000 to keep its Death Penalty. Sixty three percent of its citizens would prefer that the money be spent on alternatives. New Jersey, which repealed its Death Penalty, estimated that it could have saved more than $200 million if it had not reinstated the Death Penalty. Recent studies in Tennessee, Kansas, Indiana, Florida, North Carolina, Maryland, Illinois, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and California have all concluded that costs associated with Death Penalty cases are significantly higher than those associated with Life without Parole cases. The costs are even greater when the cost of capital punishment is weighed against the opportunity costs of using scarce resources on prevention. Where the Death Penalty is less costly, such as Texas, the state is willing to minimize appeals which may result in wrongful executions.  

6. A number of Death Row inmates have been exonerated. It is very likely that innocent people have been executed. When people are aware that innocent people have been executed they are more likely to believe that the Death Penalty is wrong. The number exonerated since 1973 has been estimated between 34 and 138. Pro-death penalty experts admit that at least 30 to 40 people have been exonerated and released from Death Row since 1973. Northwestern University Law School’s Center on Wrongful Convictions details at least 39 executions, a majority in Texas, that have been carried out in the US in the face of “compelling evidence of innocence or serious doubt about guilt (Burkhead, 2009).” Recently, Anthony Graves was exonerated after serving 18 years on Texas’ Death Row, after it was revealed that prosecutors withheld important information. Like Mr. Graves, many exonerees have suffered more than a decade on Death Row before their cases were overturned.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Nevada Passes Pilot Treatment Bill (AB 93)

The Nevada Legislature has passed a bill to divert selected nonviolent probation violators into treatment instead of high security prisons. AB 93, sponsored by Richard "Tick" Segerblom, was favored by the Progressive Alliance of Nevada (PLAN), Religious Alliance in Nevada (RAIN), League of Women Voters of Nevada, and Nevada ACLU. The conservative SAGE Commission also favored this legislation. Unfortunately, amendments to the bill reduced the number of participants from 400 to 50.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Project NEON and the MLK-Industrial Connector "Dangerous By Design"

Dear Representatives of the City of Las Vegas, Clark County RTC, NDOT, FHWA, and EPA,

Part of Project NEON calls for a connector between Industrial Boulevard and Martin Luther King Boulevard. I am asking again for local, state, and federal agencies to address their strategies to mitigate the potential dangers of placing an inter-city connector that travels through West Las Vegas--a working-class community of color.

I have not received a substantive response from any of your agencies about Project NEON. Even worse, NDOT has refused to acknowledge they have any role in creating a greater danger to West Las Vegas residents.

Given NDOT's and the City of Las Vegas' histories of environmental injustice in West Las Vegas, particularly from 1956 to the present, I hope you will address this issue sooner than later. If you are unaware of the documented history I am speaking of, please let me know.

Dahn Shaulis, Ph.D.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

What's Wrong with the City and NDOT (Environmental Injustice in West Las Vegas)

Please include these comments as part of the F Street Project. Although I have major concerns about the effects of Project NEON and the I-515 Project, I will limit my comments to F Street.

I was extremely disappointed that I was not allowed to speak more than 2 minutes at today's town hall meeting for F Street. The town hall was scheduled for 9am to 12pm, and finished at 11 am. I consider this process undemocratic and consistent with the strategies identified in the book "The Failure of Planning" by Richard Hogan. It's unfortunate that NDOT and the City of Las Vegas continue to use the same failed strategies that got us here.

NDOT and the City of Las Vegas need to address and remedy the past environmental injustices, to include the 1956 plan, the closing of streets in 1968, and the closing of F Street in 2008. I believe this acknowledgment of "EJ" should be part of the TIGER Grant and will strengthen your proposal.

Besides the obvious mention of the value of F Street access to billions in development at Symphony Park, you should also mention that NDOT saved $10-20 million from closing F Street in the first place.

Going back just to 1956, documents indicate that the City and State planned on putting I-15 through West Las Vegas to serve White businesses. The plan appears to have cost more than the two alternate routes which ran east of Downtown. It also displaced 200 African American families.

The City of Las Vegas and the State of Nevada closed streets in 1968, despite public protests. They planned to reopen the street only came after massive protests.

No later than 2006, NDOT was complicit in a plan to close F Street and the only direct access to billions in development at Symphony Park. The City has failed to provide information on who came up with the idea, although Molasky Development may have been involved as early as 2003. Molasky Development is also planning an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Building near the gateway to the Westside.

I also think you need to take a more active role in including young people, Latinos, and others who have been previously excluded in the F Street planning process. I mentioned some ideas to Chris Young today. For example, I believe children at West Prep and the Agassi Boys and Girls Club could be involved in learning about F Street and be taught about progressive planning. But perhaps that's a job we can't trust NDOT or the City to do without adequate community supervision.

Dahn Shaulis, Ph.D.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

West Las Vegas: Patterns of Environental Injustice and Resistance

Last week Las Vegas City Attorney Brad Jerbic sent me several official documents that tell us more about the history of transportation racism, regional inequity, and environmental injustice here. One of the documents, from 1956, showed that the City had three different plans for Interstate 15, and chose the western route. This route, which cut through historically black West Las Vegas, actually cost the most, but was approved in order to provide more convenience to business and the Las Vegas Strip.

Another document from 1970 indicated that civil unrest from October 5-11, 1969 was an important factor in the plan to reopen F Street. On October 8, 1969, the Las Vegas Review Journal posted articles about the events, including comments from young men (including a Vietnam vet) who had been frustrated by the lack of justice in West Las Vegas. I have been unable to locate any of the men involved in these events.

In 2008, people in West Las Vegas took a different strategy when F Street closed, choosing peaceful protests and legal and political pressure. Although the City and State promise to reopen the street, the thoroughfare between West Las Vegas and Symphony Park may not open until 2014 or later.

Click on the picture to get a larger version of the Review-Journal (October 8, 1969) photo.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Concerns about Environmental Justice and Project NEON

Project NEON will displace several hundred working-class people and people of color. The connector between Industrial Boulevard and MLK Boulevard will also be "dangerous by design" particularly for children at the Agassi Boys & Girls Club, which is only feet away from MLK.

Mr. Cooke and Mr. Abdalla,

I am concerned that NDOT's responses to my questions about Project NEON did not adequately address Environmental Justice concerns for West Las Vegas. One of these was as a result of my error.

I am requesting an email copy of your responses so that I can share it with other citizens before the next public comment period ends. It would be unfortunate for everyone if these issues are not resolved, and we have another F Street situation.

(1) One of my major concerns in that the Industrial-MLK Connector will be used as a north-south arterial, like Desert Inn Road is as an East-West arterial. This connection could lead to more traffic, higher traffic speeds, more pollution, and more pedestrian deaths of children, elders, and disabled people in West Las Vegas.

Although Project NEON does not physically touch much of West Las Vegas, by tying the Industrial-MLK connector into a widened MLK Boulevard, there may be a large Environmental Justice impact along MLK Boulevard, north of the actual project.

Are you saying that a 6-lane MLK Blvd connected to Industrial Blvd. will continue to have a 30 mph speed? Have you discussed these issues of traffic control with Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, and the RTC? How is it possible that you haven't coordinated with the RTC about public transit as it pertains to this project?

Shouldn't public transit be a part of early planning rather than as an afterthought? Many people in the area (at least 25%) are transit dependent and dedicated transit routes could relieve congestion and pollution.

(2) I'm not sure I understand your point about disregarding the survey of potentially displaced people. Does that mean you will not resurvey this population? How does that comply with EJ concerns?

(3) In response #7, I asked about the impact on the Agassi School. I meant to say the Boys and Girls Club (800 N. MLK Blvd), near Washington. Again, my concern is that when Industrial Road is connected to MLK, it will increase traffic, traffic speeds, and air pollution, creating a host of EJ issues.

Dahn Shaulis

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Letter to Educational Leaders to Pass SB398

My name is Dahn Shaulis. I am an alumnus of UNLV (Ph.D. in sociology, 1998), and have taken several classes/taught in the UNLV School of Education. I know that you and others are seeking solutions to the cuts to save the Educational Leadership program at UNLV. Is it too late for the program to survive?

I know that sometimes faculty and administrators can be reluctant to act publicly, but it will take political action and leadership from the department, the media, and your allies (e.g. the Clark County School District, School Board Members, parents, students) to save your program and save the State of Nevada from further decline.

It will also take solutions.

According to the SAGE Commission, SB398 would save $51 million the first year and $281 million over 5 years by diverting non-violent drug offenders from prison into treatment. SB398 was proposed in the 2009 Legislature but did not pass because of its start up costs ($6 million). Existing and underutilized physical structures for these programs already exist (Casa Grande, Jean, Nevada State Prison).

The money saved could be earmarked for long-term prevention, such as Pre-K education for working-class children. It could also be spent on educational leadership, IF educational leadership can be part of the solution for justice in this Valley.

I asked State politicians that the Bill be considered in the last emergency session but all I heard from politicians was that they couldn't consider any new spending. I attempted to contact School Board members but received little input.

The plan has support from both parties: it was sponsored by Senator Steven Horsford (Ms. Horsford's husband) and the Director of Corrections, Mr. Skolnik, has previously supported it in public.

If used for proper education programs, there could be even more savings (along with more justice and public safety) in the long run.

Dahn Shaulis, Ph.D.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Housing Being Built Meters Away from Interstate Highway I-95

On April 2, 2008, the Las Vegas City Council voted on Agenda Items #82, #83, and #84 to unanimously approve the construction of Inspirado Apartments, two developments totaling approximately 500 residences. This decision came despite community opposition to the project and staff recommendations that the agenda items be denied.

This week, Ms. Sheila Lambert, representing Ward 6 Councilperson Steve Ross, took offense to my questions about the public health hazards of allowing hundreds of people to live so close to Interstate Highway I-95. According to Ms. Lambert, people have the right to choose where they live. Some of the new housing seems to be within distances that would be considered hazardous for human health.1

Nevada Department of Transportation's Civil Rights representative Norma Norman stated that the possible public health and environmental justice issues were local issues only, and that NDOT would continue with its plans to widen I-95. Ms. Norman said, however, that she would ask NDOT's environmental engineers for their input. Other NDOT officials have not yet replied to my questions.

Click on the title to see the City Council Minutes and supporting documents. Click on the image to get a closer look at this project.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Letter to NDOT and the FHWA about Project NEON

Mr. Saul Willis at his home in West Las Vegas, near F Street and McWilliams. Mr. Willis has received no compensation for the damage done to his home and business.

Mr. Cooke and Mr. Abdalla,

I am expressing my concerns to the FHWA and NDOT so they are in the loop about my concerns. I actually have some revisions to the statements I made on this project, but I understand the public comment period has expired. I would like you to reconsider the deadlines and include these comments.

After again reviewing the limited amount of information on the Project NEON survey of potentially displaced people, it appears to me that you may have a major Environmental Justice issue on your hand with Project NEON. You had some of the information buried in a CD that is not even in the paper copy of the Draft EIS.

Given both agencies' track records on environmental injustice from 1956 to the present, I would encourage you to review my concerns. Based on this abysmal record, I do not trust that the Relocation Program will be just or fair or that you have given a reasonable effort in conducting your surveys.

I am letting you know of these concerns so there is not another F Street situation and lots of wasted money and resources to remedy the situation.

According to Executive Order 12898 as well as FHWA guidelines, protected groups include people under the poverty line as well as people of color.

Your "Relocation Impact Study" by Mayo and Associates in 2005 only had 76 respondents for the survey and only 46 respondents for the income portion. The number of people potentially displaced was 852. So that's a 9% response rate (76/852), not a 22% response rate as mentioned on pg 3-14 of the Draft EIS. The percentage of people who answered the income questions was 5% (46/852). (Note: the number of people potentially displaced comes from pg 3-27 of the Draft EIS, FHWA-NV-EIS-09-01-D).

The survey also indicated that of the respondents who did answer, the median income was $32,863 in 2005, versus a median family income of $44,069 of the City of Las Vegas in 2000. Although these may not be poverty-level numbers, you listed 37 of the 46 respondents had income below median levels. You do not mention how many people fall into the poverty category. You also didn't mention whether the survey was also available in Spanish.

I would argue that these response rate may not yield valid results. Income statistics may also have changed dramatically in this area, due to the recession and to the economic damage already created by Project NEON, where those with higher incomes may be leaving the impact area.

I would like to know whether the FHWA and NDOT are compliant with procedures/ guidelines on this type of survey. Is there a standard for response rates? I would also like to review whether there may have been any fraud or unethical behavior involved in gathering and/or publicizing the survey data by Mayo and Associates.

Dahn Shaulis

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Mass Incarceration in Nevada Is a Failed Strategy/SB398

Nevada Prison Commissioners Meeting, April 20, 2010

My name is Dahn Shaulis. I am an instructor at the College of Southern Nevada, a former Nevada correctional employee, and an attender of the Las Vegas Friends Worship Group—the Quakers.

My purpose for being here again is to discuss Nevada’s justice options for the future. In discussing these options, we need to examine where we are and were we have come from in terms of justice and prisons. When I speak of justice it’s about a justice much broader than many people perceive.

The State of Nevada is in crisis, socially, economically, and spiritually. Unemployment in Nevada has been in the double digits for months and has approached 14%. For people of color and the working-class, their struggles for opportunities, including decent and humane housing, education, employment and justice have taken longer. Nevada’s unemployment rate for African Americans is estimated at 20%, but that does not even include discouraged workers and those part-time workers who are seeking full-time work. Unemployment rates for Latinos are not much better and I suspect rates for indigenous peoples are also above the average.

As I mentioned at the January 2010 Prison Board meeting, Nevada has heavily invested in a Prison-Industrial Complex (PIC) for more than four decades. Prison expansion began in the mid-1960s and has continued into the 21st century. Since the 1970s, the State has also chosen to mass incarcerate youth, giving NDOC more potential recruits for prison. Even as index crime rates began to drop in this State in the early 1980s, Nevada continued on the path of mass incarceration. Conditions were so deplorable in Elko that the youth facility required federal oversight. Nevada has also chosen to jail and imprison many women, rather than find alternatives to incarceration or to remedy the situation by understanding the etiology of crime.

Tough on crime legislation has been tough on society, as Nevada leaders chose for decades to disregard human needs: underfunding education, mental health treatment, drug treatment, and decent affordable housing. The State chose to increase sentence structures and to punish probation and parole violators, at the expense of long-term social and economic costs. Prisons in Nevada were supposedly constructed to save rural economies, but they also provided low-wage convict labor--reminiscent of the racist South after the Civil War. Prisons may bring work for some, but the work is often inhumane—it bleeds into all those who are near it.

From the 1980s to the present, Nevada followed the most dysfunctional aspects of the California prison system, and built Golden Gulags, facilities that cost hundreds of millions of dollars to construct, staff, and maintain. Limited efforts were made to rehabilitate prisoners despite increasing knowledge about what works in correctional treatment. Recent attempts to privatize prisons and prison services at Summit View, the women’s prison in Southern Nevada, and the medical services at Ely State Prison (ESP) have been huge failures—yet Governor Gibbons continues to push for more privatization.

In 2007, Governor Gibbons proposed $1.7 billion in new prison construction to include a new death chamber—because he saw no other alternatives. Only a budget crisis and unforeseen drops in crime prevented the Governor and Director Howard Skolnik from continuing this mass incarceration master plan.

So here’s the picture in 2010. According to the US Census, Nevada ranks 2nd in prison spending per capita and 48th in education spending. The State has chosen a path of mass incarceration and a system that promotes violence and ignorance rather than a path of education and innovation. In April 2010, Nevada has been labeled as the most place dangerous state in the US. But this is a pyrrhic defeat for the Nevada prison system, which profits from crime and the fear of crime.

Prisons today function inadequately as drug treatment and mental health facilities, as “the new asylums.” They also serve inadequately as high schools, work houses, and as high-cost warehousing of throw-away people. Nevada’s prisons, frankly, serve as graduate schools and network hubs for organized interstate crime and White Supremacist hate groups.

Little effort is made to help prepare prisoners for work and independent living after they leave the facilities. One of Governor Gibbon’s recent strategies to cut the budget included closing Casa Grande, the state’s transition facility; Mr. Skolnik did not protest the plan to cut Casa Grande. This plan to close Casa Grande should be understood in the context that the Nevada Department of Corrections wins when it receives “repeat customers.” NDOC is an agency that grows in proportion to its failures.

When I publicly made statements two years ago, that NDOC officials were morally corrupt, and reported my experiences in the Justice Policy Journal, prison officials told the media I was fabricating information. They refused to comment on the record, however, because they knew I was telling the truth about prison conditions and the state of justice in Nevada. As a payback perhaps, Mr. Skolnik denied me access into NDOC facilities to teach college courses or to volunteer.

As UNLV criminal justice Professor Randall Shelden will tell you, our prison system is a failed system. Mass incarceration is a drain on society and it’s a dysfunctional strategy to improve public safety. In terms of economic opportunity costs, money spent on prisons means less resources for education, drug treatment, mental health care, and community redevelopment.

So what are our options?

Privatizing prisons does not work. They are not even an adequate short-term fix. No other civilized nations use this failed strategy of punitive justice to this extreme. Our only reasonable option is to think long-term and to think holistically. We need to recognize that resources are limited and that there are opportunity costs. Even US Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Reagan appointee, questioned this approach as early as 2004.

One of the most obvious short-term solutions would be to pass Senate Bill (SB) 398. This program would divert hundreds of nonviolent offenders from prison and into treatment. The SAGE Commission has estimated a savings of $280 million over a 5-year period—savings that could be used to invest in people rather than in concrete shrines to man’s ignorance and greed.

The ideal situation would be to take the savings from this diversion program to reinvest in communities hardest hit by mass incarceration, “million-dollar blocks,” to be spent on prevention and reentry. Good Pre-K programs, for example, reduce crime in the long run. The Rand Corporation and others have ideas of what programs would be most effective.

I would like to have your support today and am asking that you promise to promote SB 398 immediately--with the courage to promote it publicly. I would also ask you to encourage educators and working-class communities to support this bill.

In my January 2010 statement to the Board I explained several sources to safely plan for the downsizing of prisons—and for long-term community investment that reduces crime. These sources include legitimate authorities: Michael Jacobson and the Justice Center of the Council of State Governments. We also need to train and retrain workers so they don’t have to resort to prison work, as I did, for a decent paycheck. In the long-term, we need to mature as a State, divest ourselves from prisons and sources of crime such as casino gambling, while investing in the People.

Friday, April 16, 2010

West Las Vegas Timeline for Environmental Justice and Regional Equity

Video produced by Brandon Greene.

Please email me at to correct errors, make comments or suggestions.

1904-1905: J.T. McWilliams Townsite established. Union Pacific Railroad connection completed in 1905. Townsite grows to approximately (West Las Vegas Plan, 2009, p. 10.

1905: The Las Vegas Land and Water Co. owns most of the water rights in the Las Vegas Valley, forcing McWilliams townsite residents to relocate to the southeast side of the tracks. The result is a rapid decline of the McWilliams townsite. Railroad tracks cut off trade between the two sides (West Las Vegas Plan, p. 10).

1930s: Apartheid to the west side of Union Pacific Railroad tracks results from restrictive covenants. Segregation results in tent subdivisions next to the McWilliams townsite to accommodate growth. Residents lived in overcrowded conditions due to low wage jobs, and the high cost of land on the east side. Many families either shared a house or lived on one lot with several structures (West Las Vegas Plan, p. 10).

1936: Bonanza underpass allows Westside transportation access between both sides of the Union Pacific railroad track (West Las Vegas Plan, p. 10).

1943: Mayor Ernie Cragin refuses to renew business licenses of Black business owners unless they relocate to the Westside. Restrictive covenants and failure to rent to Blacks create defacto segregation (Orleck, 2006, pp. 43-44). African American population increases during World War II (Nellis Airfield, Basic Magnesium). Most New African American newcomers live on the Westside. Westside businesses prosper as hotels, casinos, and bars are built.

1944-1945 Informal urban renewal programs raze 375 homes, causing overcrowding on the Westside.

1945: Reverend Henry Cooke and West Side residents petition Mayor Cragin to pave “E” Street, the main thoroughfare on the Westside. All requests for public improvement are denied (Moehring, 2000, p. 178).

1948: US Supreme Court Shelley v. Kraemer bans racially restrictive covenants in housing. However, this is not instituted into Nevada Law until 1971.

1950: Under Truman’s Fair Deal, $1 million federal housing project approved (Kaufman, p. 360)

1951: Predominantly White middle-class residents of Bonanza Village protest use of the 20-acre Zaug Tract for low-cost housing development. Black residents charge racial discrimination. Bonanza Village hires attorney Harvey Dickerson (Kaufman, LV Sun, 4-24-51).

1951: As a compromise to Bonanza Village residents, a “100-foot wide buffer highway” is constructed (Highland Avenue, later renamed Martin Luther King Boulevard), separating the future housing project from Bonanza Village (Kaufman, p. 361; Moehring, p. 179)

1952: City of Las Vegas blacktops areas on the Westside. Federal housing project now known as Marble Manor completed (Kaufman, pp. 362-363).

1954-1955 Westside Park/Berkley Square subdivision constructed 155 tract houses. Subdivision designed by Paul Revere Williams is “the first subdivision in Nevada built by and for African Americans.” According to Mooney (2005), “the subdivision contributed to the improved living conditions for the community and represented the progress of local civil rights activism.”

1955: City of Las Vegas creates ordinance to drive out parked trailer owners. Six hundred (600) people sign petition to overturn ordinance, but the ordinance is retained (Kaufman, p. 375). Paving district established to fund curbing, guttering, and lighting on the West side.

1956: City of Las Vegas applies for federal urban renewal money, allowing it to condemn property for “better” use. City Planning Department extends slum clearance program by recommending that the federal highway (later known as I-15) be routed through the Westside (Kaufman, p. 375).

1957: Federal Highway plans cut highway through the Westside. Westside residents protest plan. Highway plan tied in with urban renewal plan to placate residents. 200 families displaced with promise that they would be moved to better housing (Kaufman, pp. 375-376)

1959: Las Vegas Review-Journal describes plan by State Engineer and city officials to extend Highland Avenue, which had ended at Charleston Blvd. Plan states that Highland Avenue may be extended all the way to San Francisco (LV Review Journal, 10-15-59).

1960: 160 family dwellings completed. This does not meet demand for housing (see 1957 entry). Advisory Urban Renewal Committee suggests that further low-income projects should be built outside the Westside, but this suggestion was ignored by planners. Dr. Charles West suggests that this is an attempt to create a ghetto (Kaufman, p. 378). See LULU.

1962: Plans for widening I-15 include a cul-de-sac at F Street.

1964: Civil Rights Act. Title VI prohibits racial discrimination on any projects involving federal funding.

1968: Seven streets closed on the Westside. Led by Ethel Pearson, hundreds of people of the Westside community protest street closures, but streets remain closed.

May 1968: NAACP files lawsuit against Clark County School District to integrate schools. Ninth Circuit Court decides in favor of NAACP. (see 1972 entry).

October 5-11, 1969: Protests framed as "civil disturbances" prompt the City to reopen streets in West Las Vegas (City of Las Vegas documents, 1970)

1970: Las Vegas Rescue Mission established on West Bonanza Road.

1970-1980: Population of the Westside declines from 15,857 to 15,122, while County population increases from 273,268 to 463,087. Some Westside businesses fail as they are patronized less (1994 West Side Plan, p. 15, 22).

1971: In response to Westside protests, F and D Streets reconfigured to access Downtown.

1971: State of Nevada passes law prohibiting restrictive covenants and housing discrimination. (Moehring and Green, 2005)

June 4, 1971: Hotels and casinos sign consent decree to end racial discrimination after NAACP filed a federal lawsuit.

1972-1992: Clark County School District buses Westside children in grades 1st to 5th and 7th to 12th for racial integration. Westside schools serve as 6th grade centers for busing Whites.

1974: Sherman Gardens (public housing) built.

1978-: State of Nevada invests in significant prison building projects to include Southern Nevada Correctional Center (1978), Southern Desert Correctional Center (1982), and High Desert State Prison (2000). See Opportunity Costs and Prison-Industrial Complex.

1980s: Growth of Green Valley suburb in Henderson. As a bedroom community for Las Vegas it accentuates urban sprawl and White flight from Las Vegas. Mandated school busing does not apply to Henderson (Moehring and Green, 2005, p. 228).

1980s-1990s: “Homeless Corridor” built in area adjacent (to the east of) Westside (Borchard, 2005, p. xxiii). See LULU/PIBBY.

1980-1985(?) A,B,C Streets closed at Bonanza to build food warehouse

1986: Las Vegas Redevelopment Authority (LVRDA) established to redevelop blighted areas under State of Nevada law (NRS 279). Westside is excluded. In 1988, only portions of the Westside are included in the RDA. Other parts of the Westside continue to be excluded.

1990: Construction of Summerlin suburb by Summa Corporation expands wasted land use (i.e. sprawl) and White flight in Las Vegas Valley (Schumacher, 2004, p. 120, 125; Alan Berger, 2007, p. 32)

1991: Intermodal Surface Transportation Act (ISTEA) becomes law. Under ISTEA, Interstate Highway I-15 is labeled the “Economic Lifeline Corridor.”

April 1992: Creation of the West Las Vegas Neighborhood Advisory Board to address the needs and disparities of the community. Members appointed by Las Vegas City Councilman Frank Hawkins.

1992-1998: US Environmental Protection Agency orders Union Pacific Railroad to remove petroleum and lead contaminated soil. Site to be remediated as a brownfield for city redevelopment. Unable to find information on the health effects of decades of railroad air, water, soil, and noise pollution to Westside residents.

1994: First West Last Vegas Plan by City of Las Vegas. One of the goals is to “ensure that planning for West Las Vegas is done with the residents rather than for the residents.” (1994 West Las Vegas Plan, p. 19). The plan recommends that highways I-15 and I-95 should not be used to impede traffic. The plan also calls for a college branch campus at Washington and D Street.

1994: Executive Order 12898 orders federal agencies to develop environmental justice guidelines and lists people of color and poor people as protected groups.

1994-1997: Half of Gerson Park (public housing) remains vacant due to a virus. More than 1500 people remain on waiting list for public housing.

2002: Southern Nevada Regional Planning Commission reports on infill issues in Las Vegas noting what Scott Adams, Operations Manager for the LVRDA calls “the donut hole” in West Las Vegas (Amy Kingsley, LV City Life, 2-26-09).

September 2, 2003: V-Point Planners, a representative for Paradise Development (associated with Molasky Group), requests that a portion of "F" Street be renamed Parkway Center Drive "because it deems more appropriate with the Parkway Center Development."

September 15, 2003: City Parkway IV A., Inc. “a nonprofit organization and subdivision of the State of Nevada”, petitions the Las Vegas City Council to have “F” Street renamed “City Parkway” on the east side of I-15.

November 18, 2003: In an email from city employee Melanie Dobosh to City of Las Vegas Planner Thomas Burkart, Ms. Dobosh calls the name change from F Street to City Parkway "a very bad idea" and expresses major concerns about public health and safety.

2004: Nevada Department of Transportation and City of Las Vegas plan expansion of Interstate Highway (I-15) through the Westside. F Street renamed City Parkway on development side of I-15. Government agencies claim they have followed policies by notifying the four residents who live within 400 feet of the closure.

2005: Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Act (SAFE-TEA) becomes law.

2005: NDOT holds hearings for I-15 widening to Apex. According to NDOT, the closing of D and F Street are not in the plan.

2006: Second West Las Vegas Plan completed by City of Las Vegas.

January 18, 2006: Las Vegas City Council votes to close F and D streets as part of I-15 highway expansion. The provision is part of one agenda item 87 of 147 listed agenda items. Las Vegas Councilman Lawrence Weekly later claims he did not know the plan would include street closings. According to Bart Anderson of Public Works, The F Street connector was intended to "provide additional access to I-15." Mr. Anderson also stated that "additional public meetings would take place."

August 2, 2006: NDOT (Jeff Hale) asks the City of Las Vegas for a “resolution of support” to close F Street as part of the I-15 to Apex Widening project. The video from the January 18 and August 2 council meetings posted at

2006: Clergy and Las Vegas Metro Police reach out to local youths to reduce crime. According to Captain Patrick Neville violent crimes decreased 35% from 2006 to 2007 and an additional 17% from 2007 to 2008 (Sonya Padgett, Las Vegas Review Journal, February 15, 2009, p. 4J).

2006: “Economic Opportunity Board [EOB], the area’s oldest and largest nonprofit that offered programs such as child care and Head Start closed.” In 2003, it faced allegations of misuse of funds. A federal audit of The Southern Nevada Workforce Investment Board also showed millions of mismanaged funds, with lucrative contracts going to nonprofits with close ties to the board. (Adrienne Packer, Las Vegas Review-Journal, July 26, 2009, p. 4B)

May 2007: Environmental Assessment (EA) of “I-15 Improvements to Apex” published. The study (p. 32) finds that the proposed project is in non-attainment for Carbon Monoxide, Particulate Matter, and Ozone. However, the EA claims a “finding of no significant impact” and therefore no Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is completed. The authors (p. 21) also report “no adverse, disproportionate, environmental justice impacts.” According to the report (p. 24), “the proposed area includes a larger proportion of African Americans (28 percent) than the County (nine percent). “ The Paiute Indian Reservation is also in the impact zone (p. 24).

2008: Native Son bookstore (Sam Smith) closes.

2008: Third West Las Vegas Plan published by City of Las Vegas. Plan notes that 24% of the lots on the Westside remain vacant.

2008: Concrete wall built across F Street which cuts off only direct access between the Westside and $16-24 Billion Downtown redevelopment zone. City Council members claim they know nothing about the closure.

September 7, 2008: F Street closed (Les Pierres Streater, Las Vegas Sentinel Voice, p. 1, December 25, 2008).

September 2008: Las Vegas Ward 5 Chamber of Commerce stages a protest at the F Street underpass. The sign read "Don't Shut Us Out". Katie Duncan, Katherine Joseph (Black Historical Society),Nevada Assemblyman Harvey Munford, Gene Collins, Anthony Snowden, Cedric Gay, Sharon Jamerson, Irma Walker, and Stan Wilkerson participated. The media and Oscar Goodman notified. Channel 3 and City Life covered the story. Construction was temporarily halted. NDOT official Jeff Hale states that the closing of F Street would cut construction costs of the I-15 expansion by $14 million.

October 2008: Stop the F Street Closure Coalition formed

December 24, 2008: Ora Bland, Estella Jimerson, National Action Network and Stop the F Street Closure, LLC file a Federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of Las Vegas and Nevada Department of Transportation for the F Street closure.

January 7, 2009: Westside residents conduct protest march on Las Vegas City Hall.

February 2009: After political pressure from Westside residents, City agrees to reopen D Street.

April 18, 2009: Protest march by F Street Coalition held on Las Vegas Strip.

May 2009: Assembly Bill 304 approved in Nevada Legislature. AB 304 provision sponsored by Assemblyman Harvey Munford and Senator Steven Horsford requires reopening of F Street and participation of two residents on the Southern Nevada Enterprise Community Board.

2009: College of Southern Nevada ends its sponsorship of the A.D. Guy Center at 817 North "N" Street.

2009: West Prep passes No Child Left Behind standards after receiving increased funding. Las Vegas Sun (8-12-09) reports from UCLA researchers that Westside elementary schools (“Prime Six” schools) are in danger of triple segregation (race, poverty, language) due to influx of large Spanish speaking population. Approximately 1/3 of all students are limited in English language. Booker and Wendell Williams schools, however, show adequate progress.

September 3, 2009: Nevada Department of Transportation submits Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Project NEON (I-15 Corridor Improvements and Local Arterial Improvements). In the plan, MLK Blvd would be connected to Industrial Blvd to have a high-speed arterial between Henderson and North Las Vegas. The NEON project would take 6-20 years and is based on county population growth from its current count 1.9 million residents to 3.3 million residents in 2030. According to the Draft EIS, more than 850 residents and approximately 1800 employees will be displaced. Many of the displaced residents are living near Martin Luther King Boulevard (Between Charleston and Desert Lane). A survey of potentially displaced people results in a 22% return rate. Based on this limited data, there is a Finding Of No Significant Environmental Justice Impact (FONSI).

October 5, 2009: At the SNEC meeting, NDOT/City of Las Vegas report an estimate of mid-2014 reopening date for "F" Street.

November 2009: City of Las Vegas (City Parkway IV-A) and PHI (affiliated with Molasky Development) sign an exclusive agreement to construct a building to house Immigration and Customs Enforcement Building at 301 West Mesquite. Las Vegas City Council approves the contract.

November 2009: National Park Service designates Berkley Square for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

April 12, 2010 At the Southern Nevada Enterprise Community (SNEC) meeting, The City of Las Vegas annnounces they will not fund a public outreach prgram for the F Street reopening Project. F Street members state that they were not informed of this development. Ricki Barlow claims that the decision was made so that he could be more directly responsible for the F Street Reopening Project.

Key Terms:
EA=Environmental Assessment
EIS=Environmental Impact Statement
FONSI=Finding of No Significant IMpact
LULU=Locally Unwanted Land Uses
NIMBY=Not In My Back Yard
PIBBY=Put in Black’s Back Yard
Opportunity costs
Quality of Life (QOL) indicators
Inequities (procedural, geographic, social)
Prison-Industrial Complex

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Education Not Incarceration (SB 398): Town Hall Meeting, 2-13-2010

If legislators have the vision and courage to pass SB398, the State of Nevada would have millions more for public education and community reinvestment. I am asking Nevada voters to call or write their state lawmakers about this legislation.

According to the SAGE Commission, which approves of this measure, the State would save an estimated $51.2 million in the first year by diverting non-violent probation violators from prison to treatment. The SAGE Commission also estimates a $280 million savings over five years. Substance abuse treatment would be provided by the Department of Health and Human Services. The heads of Corrections and Parole and Probation have already publicly stated that they approve of this measure.

I speak to you not only as a concerned citizen, but also as an alumnus of UNLV, a CSN educator, and someone with considerable time working in and studying the Nevada justice system. As a case manager in high security mental health units at two state prisons, I have seen this waste of resources, where prisons have become “the new asylums” and where high security prisons serve as graduate schools for organized crime.

For 45 years the State of Nevada decided to invest in adult and youth prisons instead of communities, public education, and human services. Crime grew as a result of the growing casino culture, racial segregation and discrimination, and the refusal to treat people for substance abuse and mental health problems. Overall index crime peaked in Nevada in 1980, yet the fear of crime enabled lawmakers to push for more prison funding, amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars in capital expenditures. Currently, some lawmakers want to build prisons even as one facility lies vacant (Jean) and others face closing (Nevada State Prison, Summit View, Casa Grande).

Prisons in Nevada do little to habilitate prisoners, providing them with few opportunities to get the skills and resources they need to make it on the outside. It is appalling to see that Governor Gibbons proposes to close its only restitution center in Southern Nevada, while waves of low-level probation violators flood the high security High Desert State prison.

Let’s have the courage to start the savings now. The time is now to downsize this dysfunctional and costly part of government—and to replace it with community reinvestment and public education.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Public Comment at Nevada Board of Prison Commissioners

My public comment is about the future of the Nevada Department of Corrections and the State of Nevada. I was an employee in the Nevada Department of Corrections from 2000 to 2007 and am currently an instructor at the College of Southern Nevada where I have taught correctional classification and sociology. Prior to my state service I received my Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. I have spent considerable time observing and analyzing the justice system in Nevada. These are my observations and recommendations.

1. From the mid 1960s to the present, the State of Nevada has chosen to imprison people at the expense of dealing with the root causes of crime: economic injustice, ignoring mental health concerns, casinos, and the war on drugs.

2. By spending on prisons rather than public education, mental health care, and drug rehabilitation, the State has found itself in a 40-year cycle of mass incarceration.

3. Mass incarceration and fear of crime have been used as political and economic tools for politicians and judges, winning conservative votes and creating an unhealthy form of rural development.

4. During my service in NDOC, I saw a department that could not adequately deal with mass incarceration, and have personally observed or received credible information on waste, fraud, abuse, mismanagement, and patterns of sexual harassment.

5. The last Nevada prison budget was based on the premise that prison growth would increase 61% in the next ten years, to 22,000 inmates by 2017.

6. The NDOC, however, has seen an 18% drop in its women’s prison population since 2007 and a 3% drop in its men’s prison populations since 2008.

7. NDOC and some government officials have had a vested interest in generating fear about public safety.

8. As we develop a future vision of Nevada, there are effective ways to simultaneously downsize prisons and improve public safety. Failure to plan comprehensively could result in what Jeffrey Reiman calls a “pyrrhic defeat”, that is NDOC and some government officials will benefit if crime or the fear of crime increases.

9. Credible information and guidance on downsizing prisons has been available for years but has largely been ignored by the State of Nevada. One good source is Michael Jacobson’s book, Downsizing Prisons: How to Reduce Crime and End Mass Incarceration published in 2005. Mr. Jacobson was the budget director for NY City before becoming head of probation and corrections.


1. The NDOC budget is unsustainable. State monies must go into investment of its people, particularly in the form of public education. I would suggest that NDOC carefully look at salaries, benefits, and work schedules of its managers before reducing the salaries, benefits, and work schedules of prison staffers. Nevada currently has a dangerous staff to prisoner ratios.

Efforts to privatize prisons or prison sectors do not work; Nevada's previous attempts have been failures.

2. The 2007 study by Justice Center of the Council of State Governments titled Increasing Public Safety, Generating Savings, provides us with some clear initial guidelines on downsizing prisons and improving cooperation between various agencies. I would like to know what the State of Nevada and NDOC have done to implement these guidelines.

3. The Justice Center study also points us in the direction of more thoughtful and courageous strategies that could help Nevada’s future.

4. As the report states “any strategy to reduce crime and manage the growth of prison population should focus on improving conditions in the neighborhoods to a disproportionate number of offenders will likely return.”

5. These plans should include investment in education and decent work opportunities in areas that have typically been ignored or damaged by governments and businesses. There should be clear indicators and benchmarks for progress in improving conditions in these neighborhoods. Public officials should be held accountable to help improve the quality of life in these neighborhoods.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

I-515 Widening Project (and F Street Interchange)

View Larger Map

My name is Dahn Shaulis from the Stop the F Street Closure Coalition. Please ensure that these questions and concerns become part of the public record for the I-515 Widening Project. Some of my questions are specific to the F Street Interchange and its effect on the Westside neighborhood. However, I also have questions and concerns about the impact of this project for enabling unsustainable urban growth, urban sprawl, greater social inequality and greater environmental injustice. Having heard citizens at the 12/2/09 Public Information Meeting, it appears that some people have already been negatively impacted.

It is disturbing that members of the Southern Nevada Enterprise Community (SNEC), including State Senator Steven Horsford, were not briefed on the impacts on redevelopment in the area. At the 12/1/09 SNEC Board, Senator Horsford asked NDOT that the public comment period be extended. If the project is not planned for construction until 2026, it would seem prudent to gather more information through outreach to community members and public officials who may be impacted. Also, I saw no media representatives at the 12/2/09 Public Information Meeting.

As an ally to Westside residents, it appears that the F Street Interchange is meant to enrich the wealthy (i.e. Symphony Park and City Parkway) with little or no consideration of Westside residents.

1. What is NDOT’s role in ensuring planning equity for the F Street Interchange as it relates to environmental justice? Please be specific.

2. What will be the impact of the F Street Interchange be on transportation equity and environmental justice to Westside residents? Please be specific.

According to one NDOT official I spoke to, the Westside is an area of churches and few businesses and that the F Street closure was designed to help the people of the Westside maintain the current environment, away from the “hustle and bustle” of the city. But NDOT officials did little to ask the people of the Westside what they wanted. The plan to close F Street was made with no planning equity.

3. Given these statements from NDOT officials, does this mean that the I-515 Widening Project is designed to keep business traffic away from the F Street area (unless they are locally undesirable land uses—LULU’s—such as warehouses, homeless shelters, or a planned Immigration and Customs Enforcement Building)?

Having followed the progress of other NDOT/FHWA projects (I-15 to Apex, Project NEON), it appears to me that the agencies involved and their contractors are not adequately knowledgeable in environmental justice, planning equity, sustainability, and smart growth. The I-15 to Apex project disproportionately affected people of color and low-income populations, yet no Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was completed. Complicity among the FHWA, NDOT, and City of Las Vegas resulted in an expensive mistake, the closure of F Street, that will cost tens of millions of dollars and several years to remediate. With Project NEON, a survey of potentially impacted people was done to examine environmental justice. The survey resulted in a dismal 22% response rate from the 800-900 people who may be displaced.

I suggest you consult with experts such as Robert Bullard, Henry Holmes and Don Chen who can assist in planning in a more environmentally just fashion with a strategy of smart growth. The timeline that I will provide you illustrates how planners have systematically ignored the concerns of Westside residents, including the closing of F Street. The public meeting for the I-515 Widening indicates that NDOT still doesn't get it.

NDOT/FHWA should not consider this project or even a modification of this project unless the area deals with water issues, public education, public transportation infrastructure, infill, and economic diversification. There is nothing in this preliminary plan that explains how expanding a highway will improve quality of life. As Mr. Sam Wright noted, this project was designed on population projections. It was also designed with an unrealistic vision of gambling and entertainment as a single-industry economy.

Similar plans to widen highways in other cities (Los Angeles, Atlanta) have ultimately resulted in extreme cases of gridlock. As one NDOT employee admitted to me at the 12/2/09 meeting, “expanding highways is a short-sighted approach.” If your employees understand this, why do you propose to continue this project and its design? How will the I-515 Project enable unsustainable sprawl in the Valley?

4. This project is based on what degree of infill or sprawl? Please be specific.

5. What long-range plans by NDOT and other agencies (Including Federal, State, County and City organizations, and agencies in California) do you know of for the West Side and other communities in Las Vegas? In the past, NDOT has denied knowledge of such plans. Please be specific.  

6. Given that the casino industry has been resistant to mass transit, such as a dedicated corridor for light rail or buses, what inter-agency coordination is there between this project and public transportation planning, including buses and light rail?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

City of Las Vegas Grants Molasky Development No-Bid Contract for Immigration and Customs Building

On November 4, 2009, the City of Las Vegas granted a subsidiary of Molasky Development the right to plan and construct an Immigration and Customs (ICE) building at 301 West Mesquite. The building would be constructed south of West Bonanza Road near City Parkway (previously F Street). The Las Vegas City Council voted 7-0 to approve Agenda Item 37, which granted the Las Vegas company exclusive rights to construct a 60,000 square foot building. The contract was made under two limited liability entities (City Parkway IV-A for the City and PH-ICE LLC for Molasky).

The exclusive contract:

The agenda (Item 37)

Action Minutes (Vote was 7-0)

Color Site Map

Monday, October 26, 2009

Asking Important Questions to Authorities (Project NEON)

My name is Dahn Shaulis, from the Stop the F Street Closure Coalition. Please ensure that these questions and concerns become part of the public record for Project NEON. Most of the questions are specific to Project NEON and its effect on the Westside neighborhood, although I also have concerns about the impact of this project on enabling unsustainable urban sprawl.

For the record, I asked you several of these questions via email at least two weeks ago, and hope you have adequate responses. I also requested more information, a hard copy of the Draft EIS, a CD of the Architectural Inventory, and more information on the survey you conducted, but still have not received a response after my request more than two weeks ago.

In my opinion, it appears that NDOT and its contractors are not adequately knowledgeable in environmental justice, planning equity, sustainability, and smart growth, and I suggest you hire outside consultants such as Robert Bullard, Henry Holmes and Don Chen who can assist in planning in a more environmentally just fashion. The timeline that I will provide you illustrates how planners have systematically ignored the concerns of Westside residents, including the closing of F Street. In my opinion, the Draft EIS shows that the FHWA and NDOT still don't get it.

1. I am concerned about pedestrian safety on MLK from Charleston Boulevard northward.

A. What will the speed limit(s) be? Please be specific.
B. What controls will there be to control and enforce motor vehicle speed? Are these the state of the art strategies?
C. Where will pedestrians be able to cross MLK, and how will pedestrian traffic be controlled? Please be specific.
D. Has NDOT considered the types of pedestrians who will be crossing MLK, particularly children and elders? If so, how will the safety of these people be considered?

2. I am concerned about the people you are planning to displace in the Westside area.

A. How many people in the area be displaced and what are the addresses?
B. Have all the people who will be displaced been notified? If so, did the notifications result in responses? Are these responses documented and of public record?
C. Where will these displaced people go?
D. Who will be accountable for adequate and affordable housing for those people who are displaced?
E. How will this displacement be documented to guarantee that these people have safe, adequate and affordable housing that is close to work and services?
F. You did a survey of people who would be displaced, but only received a 22% return rate? Do you feel this was a satisfactory survey response rate?

3. I am also concerned about small streets that intersect with MLK. How safe will it be to get onto MLK from these streets, particularly streets such as McWilliams, Madison, Wyatt, Jimmy, Hart, Hassell, Lawry, Balzar, and Bartlett?

A. Will these streets continue to be accessible from MLK, or will they be closed?
B. If these small streets remain open to MLK, how will traffic be controlled?

4. I am concerned about future air pollution and noise levels near the Agassi School tennis courts and other facilities that may house children. What do you expect air pollution and noise levels to be if the MLK-Industrial connector becomes a street with gridlock?

5. If the MLK-Industrial becomes a major connector, what plans are there for public transportation on this street, including a cross-town bus?

A. If there is a cross-town bus, where will it stop?
B. Will public transportation be hampered while the connector is being constructed?
C. Will there by issues with people crossing MLK to get to bus stops?

6. How will construction affect access to on and off each one of the on- and off-ramps near the Westside? In the past, the closing of these ramps have severely restricted access to and from the neighborhood and have created undue hardship to the community. Please be specific for each and every on- and off- ramp.

7. How will Project NEON enable unsustainable sprawl in the Valley?

A. This project is based on what population projections?
B. This project is based on what degree of infill or sprawl? Please be specific.
C. What long-range plans by NDOT and other agencies (Including State, County and City organizations) do you know of for the West Side and other communities in Las Vegas? In the past, NDOT has denied knowledge of such plans. Please be specific.  

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


To: PBS&J/Project NEON

This is both a public statement and a request for materials.

Please send me a hard copy of the Draft EIS of Project NEON along with the CD for the Architectural Inventory that is supposed to go along with the document (address below). If there any other CDs please send them also and as soon as possible.

I hope you will have all these materials for people at the F Street meeting on October 26, and the Exhibits, along with large blow ups or a slide presentation of all applicable Exhibits and Tables (e.g. Table 1, Table 3-23).

I believe there could be many people asking similar questions about pedestrian safety (and potential pedestrian deaths of children and elders) along MLK, community cohesion, noise, the displacement of working-class people of color, and safety accessing MLK from small streets that intersect with MLK.

The history of highways in this valley and nationwide is a history of structural and systemic environmental and racial injustice in the US. If you examine the time line in Addendum 2, you'll notice that MLK served as a buffer area so Whites could be separated from Blacks. In my opinion, the failure to perform an EIS for the "I-15 Improvements, US 95 to Apex" (EA published May 2007) shows that the FHWA and NDOT still don't get it.

Please also send me as much information as possible on the EA Survey of potential residential displacements (mentioned on pg 3-14, with a 22% return rate) so that I may examine it for validity and respond adequately before the public response period is completed.

Thank you in advance for your assistance

Dahn Shaulis

Monday, October 12, 2009

Project NEON in a Social-Historical Perspective

To: Nevada Department of Transportation and PBS&J

Please acknowledge receipt of this mail and the two previous emails regarding Project NEON. Please also ensure that all of the materials I send you are part of the public statements for the project. I am cc'ing this statement, as I have with others, for possible future litigation. Given NDOT's recent debacle with closing "F" Street, PBS&J's profitable, lengthy, and taxpayer costly contract to reopen it, and the social-historical patterns I will present, I hope planners will take time to listen.

As I have previously mentioned, I am particularly concerned with the impact area on and near Martin Luther King Blvd. beginning at Charleston Blvd. heading northward. My specific concerns include, but are not limited to, issues of planning equity, regional equity, pedestrian safety, displacement of working-class people (disproportionately people of color), access to small streets, and noise and air pollution in this specific impact area. More generally, I have concerns that the project continues to enable unsustainable sprawl in the valley. I have explained my concerns in more detail in the two previous email statements.

It appears to me, from the Draft EIS, that NDOT and other agencies and corporations involved in this project are not adequately trained or educated in environmental justice and smart planning. I have suggested that these parties hire outside consultants such as Robert Bullard, Henry Holmes and Don Chen who can assist in planning this connector in a more environmental just fashion.

Attached is a timeline that relates to previous planning in this area. Please ensure that all of this is included in the public statement. Note that several of these events indicate a pattern of structural racism and classism and environmental injustice. The timeline is only partial listing of events related to transportation and economic development on Las Vegas’ historic Westside.

(Note: an up-to-date timeline is provided above, in this blog)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Additional Concerns about Project NEON

I have additional concerns about Project NEON. Please add this to my previous public statement. I am cc'ing this email to others for future litigation purposes.

(1) I have a concern about pedestrian safety on Martin Luther King Blvd. from Charleston northward. What will the speed limit be on MLK? Where will pedestrians be able to safely cross MLK, and how far apart will the crosswalks be?

(2) What will be the effect of the expansion of MLK on the air quality and noise at the Agassi School?

(3) What will access be like for people who live on small streets that currently connect to MLK? Will you close these streets to MLK? If not, how safe will it be to get onto MLK from these streets, particularly streets such as McWilliams, Madison, Wyatt, Jimmy, Hart,Hassell, Lawry, Balzar, Bartlett,Blankenship, Miller, Pontiac, June, Windsor, Rev Wilson, and Brooks?

(4) It looks to me that the project will remove low cost housing and perhaps several churches. How EXACTLY will displaced people be moved to housing that is affordable and close to work and services? How EXACTLY will this displacement be documented?

Vegas Quixote

Saturday, October 10, 2009

NDOT Continues with Unsustainable Growth Plan in "Project NEON"

Signs of the dysfunctional growth plan in Summerlin (Clark County), Nevada.

A fellow F Street member tells me that the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT) is continuing with its plans for Project NEON--in its much larger plan for unsustainable growth and continued speculation. I wonder if someday the project will be part of the Great Ruins of Las Vegas tour*, along with the Fontainbleu and Echelon on the Strip. Here's my letter to PBS&J, the contractors for the NDOT project. It is notable that this firm has had several documented ethical slips (Google PBS&J and lawsuits or corruption).

Dear PBS&J,

I have taken a cursory look at the Draft EIS and it looks woefully inadequate and poorly thought out. There seems to be only a superficial awareness of environmental justice or sustainability, just enough to claim you did your job. Please consider the implications of this statement and ensure you consider these comments/questions in your reports. I have saved this record for future litigation purposes.

Please acknowledge receipt.

(1) Has the Environmental Assessment (EA) already been completed? If so, what were the public comments so far? It appears that the public comments so far have been limited--I believe this is due to inadequate notice and education about the impacts, including the negative impacts.

(2) What does NDOT know about ALL future planning in the area and where people of color and working-class people fit into the plan? Is this project based on a particular population and population demographics? If so, are people aware of these numbers and the implications they have on quality of life and sustainability?

I noticed that you had a survey of the impact area but only 20% responded. Can you call this a representative sample?

(3) We also need to know about all the long-term and short-term consequences of the project. Who specifically are the businesses that will be adversely affected by road closures and how will they be compensated? How will construction affect public transportation? Public transportation is already inadequate and plans to improve public transit appear naive.

(4) The FHWA, NDOT, and all other parties need to be fully aware--as part of their Environmental Impact Statement, about the detailed history of the area and how people have color have been previously displaced and impacted by similar projects. This should be part of the Environmental Impact Statement.

(5) I was particularly concerned that low-income housing would be demolished. Displacement happened in 1956 as the I-15 was first planned. In 1957, 200 families were displaced with the promise that new housing would replace it. The housing was not completed until 1960 and it was inadequate for the number of people. So what will happen to any displaced people? And will there be adequate compensation?

(6) Air Quality/Safety: How will this project truly affect air quality in the impact area? Should we trust the calculations or do we need outside sources to look at the public health consequences? Also, does this increase the chance of a hazardous waste spill?

(7) Truthfully, given the costly "F" Street debacle, I think the FHWA, NDOT, RTC, and City of Las Vegas also need to pay outside consultants who can help us with Environmental Justice issues such as Robert Bullard, Henry Holmes, and Don Chen. I have the idea that none of these agencies (or their representatives) are adequately educated in environmental justice, smart growth, transportation equity, planning equity, etc. If there is anyone in this area who is involved in Environmental Justice they should also be considered for consultation.

Dahn Shaulis

*"K" came up with the idea of the Ruins of Las Vegas and thought it would make a great sci-fi novel about the downfall of gambling and unsustainable growth in the Valley. There is, in fact, an online tour of the Great Ruins of Detroit. K's idea came after I told her about Las Vegas as "the last Detroit (a concept UNLV historian Hal Rothman coined)." At the time, the concept pertained to the possibility of a working class community to attain material comfort.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Bus Riders Face More Fare (Less Fair) Adjustments

Dear Mr. Jacob Snow and RTC Board Members,

I have six major points to make about the proposed plan to double the 24-hour pass and comments on related RTC policies. Please ensure that this is entered as a public statement.

First, I would propose that the RTC post, on-line, future and previous comments on the fare increases and on the poor service of the RTC bus system. In 2008, between 200 and 300 people bothered to express their issues and concerns about these bus fare increases and those comments have ostensibly been ignored.

Second, the RTC already has planned future bus fares increases. With the hikes in 2010, there will have been a 117% increase in 30-day bus fares from 2005 to 2010 and a 225% increase from 1999 to 2010.

According to the Las Vegas Sun, the RTC changed its transportation philosophy in 1999 asserting that the captive bus ridership shoulder a greater burden for bus transportation. The is a case of transportation inequity, and I would argue, transportation racism (see point 5). For background information, I encourage you to read books edited by Robert D. Bullard, including "Just Transportation" and "Highway Robbery".

Third, the RTC's periodic threats to increase bus fares or face route reductions explains no other options. Working-class people who take the bus will be required to pay even more--for service that is not significantly better. It appears you have not even considered programs that I have mentioned, such as The Rider Relief Program that has been used in Los Angeles.

Fourth, I attempted to obtain information on the demographics of RTC bus riders. Unfortunately, the Regional Transportation Commission refused to provide the data on at least two occasions. However, the City of Las Vegas City Planning and the US Census quickly provided me with current data from 2007 and 2008 respectively.

Fifth, The 2007-2008 Census data confirms my hypothesis that the RTC bus is predominantly used by working-class people who have few options. These people are disproportionately people of color: Latino, African-American, and Asian. It seems unjust that these people have seen increased fares with no significant improvement in service.

I cannot expect people of your social location or most members of the current RTC board to have empathy for these working-class people, particularly people of color, but I can let you know that I try to raise consciousness on issues such as transportation dependency transportation equity and environmental justice.

Sixth, the reality is that many people who live in Clark County perceive the bus as a worst option or last option; it seems unlikely to me that cool buses that look like trains will make a significant difference if Journey to Work time is not improved. I know that your hands are tied, in a way, because you didn't design the unsustainable sprawl or the White and middle-class flight from Las Vegas, but I hope you have some power and goodwill to question attempts at more unsustainable sprawl.

Dahn Shaulis