Nevada Laws for "Prohibited Items for Prisoners"
(NRS 212.160; NRS 212.165; NRS 212.180)
Explained by Las Vegas Criminal Defense Attorneys

People serving time in Nevada prisons may not possess weapons, drugs, or phones.  The penalties for doing so can include several more years behind bars.  But a skilled Nevada criminal defense attorney may be able to get the charges dropped or reduced to lesser offenses.

This page explains which items Nevada state prisoners are prohibited from possessing during incarceration.  Keep reading to learn about ways to fight the charges and possible penalties.


Predictably, prison life is extremely restrictive.  In Nevada, inmates may be prosecuted for additional crimes if they possess either:

  • controlled substances (including prescription drugs)
  • telecommunications devices (such as phones or computers which can connect with someone outside the prison) (See Nevada Assembly Bill 420 (2017))
  • dangerous weapons (such as guns, knives, explosives, or metal knuckles)

Note that inmates may still be convicted of this crime even if they were unaware that they were in possession of these prohibited items. Laughlin criminal defense
Michael Becker provides an example:

Shelly visits her boyfriend, Sam, who's incarcerated at Warm Springs Correctional Center. During visiting hours, Shelly slips a joint into Sam's pocket without him knowing.  If caught, Sam could be convicted of being a prisoner in possession of a narcotic.  Furthermore, Shelly could be booked at the Washoe County Detention Center for bringing Sam the drugs in prison.

It makes no difference in the above example that Sam didn't know the joint was on his person . legally, he could still be found guilty of violating NRS 212.160.  Even if Sam had a medical marijuana card or a prescription, it's unlawful for him to receive drugs from anyone other than licensed prison staff.

Also note that an inmate may still be prosecuted for possessing prohibited items whether or not he/she is physically in the prison at the time. Reno criminal defense attorney Neil Shouse explains:

Deborah is incarcerated at Florence McClure Women's Correctional Center in North Las Vegas.
One day she falls ill and is transported to a local hospital, where a nurse mistakenly leaves her cell phone in Deborah's room.  If Deborah makes a call on it, she could be initially booked at the North Las Vegas Detention Center for being a prisoner in possession of a cell phone.

In the above example it makes no difference that Deborah was in the hospital and not in prison . a prisoner possessing a phone in any location warrants criminal liability under NRS 212.165.  It also doesn't matter that Deborah didn't intend to keep the phone after the phone call.  Merely possessing the phone for any amount of time would be unlawful.

Note that it's also against the law to give an inmate weapons, alcohol, drugs or telephones.  Learn more in our articles on the Nevada crime of furnishing weapons, alcohol or drugs to prisoners and the Nevada crime of furnishing telephones to prisoners.


The most common defense to charges of prisoners possessing prohibited items is that there's insufficient evidence to sustain a conviction.  Unless the prosecutor can prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the charges should be dropped.  Typical evidence in these cases includes eye-witnesses and surveillance video.


The punishment for a prisoner possessing prohibited items depends on the item.  Possessing drugs or a phone is category D felony in Nevada, carrying a sentence of:

Meanwhile, possessing a weapon in prison is a category B felony in Nevada, carrying a sentence of one to six years in Nevada State Prison.

Note that inmates typically serve these sentences "consecutively" with the sentences they're already serving.  For example an inmate serving four years for Nevada theft crimes who's then sentenced to four years for the Nevada crime of possessing drugs in prison would serve a total of eight years.  Also note that judges are typically not allowed to impose probation or suspended sentences in these cases.

Arrested?  Call . . .

If you have a loved one who's incarcerated and who's been accused of possessing drugs, weapons or phones in prison, call our Las Vegas Criminal Defense Attorneys at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673) for a free meeting.  We may be able to negotiate your charges down to a full dismissal so that your loved one doesn't serve any extra time.

We represent client throughout Nevada, including Las Vegas, Henderson, Washoe County, Reno, Carson City, Laughlin, Mesquite, Bunkerville, Moapa, Elko, Pahrump, Searchlight and Tonopah.


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