The Nevada Department of Corrections has shut down the WINGS drug and alcohol treatment program 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 Director Glen Whorton.
But Dorothy North, of Vitality Unlimited, the nonprofit group that has run the program for eight years, said Whorton and his deputies made up the charges.
"They hate inmates and they hate programming," she said.
Whorton said that's not true, that he pulled the federal grant money and terminated the program because of an investigation by his inspector general, which showed inmates being ordered to participate in religious activities and discrimination against minorities including blacks, American Indians and gays.
The report said inmates were threatened with expulsion from the program, federal prosecution if they complained about their treatment and even suffered physical abuse by inmate mentors. He said prison officials became suspicious because of bruises and other injuries inmates suffered supposedly while playing softball.
North said most of her staff members are minorities and that discrimination wasn't tolerated. She also denied the allegations of physical abuse.
WINGS (Willing Inmates in Nevada Gaining Sobriety) 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, the federal money has all but dried up.
Whorton said because of the problems, there was no choice but to terminate the WINGS contract.
"They couldn't prove a thing," North said. "It's all a bunch of lies."
She said Whorton actually cut off funding in July and that Vitality Unlimited has put $140,000 of its money into it since then.
The final letter from Whorton's administration gave Vitality Unlimited until Feb. 18 to shut down and turn all of its inmate files over to the prison.
"It's unbelievable," she said. "They cut funding to a program that has an 82.25 percent success rate."
Whorton said his staff is trying to finish up the current WINGS class, but that the federal funding ends in May. He said, unless the Legislature provides some money for it, it will disappear.
He said if the program is funded, it should be operated like a similar program at Southern Desert Correctional Center in Southern Nevada, which the Department of Corrections runs.
• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.