By Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau: With Gov. Jim Gibbons dissenting, the Board of Prisons yesterday delayed action on a proposal to close Nevada State Prison, meaning it will continue to operate for at least the next several weeks.
Gibbons said the decision by the other two members of the board – Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Secretary of State Ross Miller – means that taxpayers will continue to pay more money to operate an antiquated facility. The decision will also continue to jeopardize the security and safety of those who work at the prison, he said.
“I don’t know why there is reluctance,” Gibbons said. “It’s going to be a very expensive proposition for the state of Nevada if it has to pull it up into code.”
That cost is in the $30 million range, he said.
“And we’re talking millions of dollars in additional cost to operate and run it,” Gibbons said.
But Miller said the latest rationale for the closure, that the 209 positions at the facility are needed at other institutions to cover for one-day-a-month furloughs that have been implemented by the Department of Corrections beginning July 1, is no reason to close the prison. Instead, the department should seek authority to be exempted from the furlough policy, he said. There is $1.5 million remaining in a fund to pay for public safety positions granted furlough exemptions, Miller said.
The furloughs mean lesser visitation, closure of guard towers and other options that will create an unsafe and untenable situation for the prison system, he said.
“All types of options that I really think are beyond what this state would expect in terms of maintaining acceptable levels of public safety in our prison system,” Miller said.
The prison system may have enough beds in other facilities to accommodate the closure now, but there is no guarantee that situation will continue as the economy recovers, he said.
Howard Skolnik, director of the Department of Corrections, said he will not implement any inmate or staff transfers from the prison, except for safety or security issues, until the next discussion of the issue.
Between 650 and 700 inmates continue to be housed at the facility located in the capital.
Skolnik told the board he needs the correctional officer positions assigned to the prison relocated to other facilities to implement the furloughs, a policy approved by the 2009 Legislature as a way to help balance the budget. Correctional officers were exempted from the furlough policy last year.
As a result of the decision by the board, Skolnik said he will now seek to fill the positions at Nevada State Prison that he has kept vacant in expectation of its closure. If the ultimate decision is to close the prison, then layoffs may be required if those positions are filled, he said.
Curt Thomas, a correctional officer at the prison, said the Gibbons administration has put forth a variety of reasons for closing the prison, from it being more costly to operate, to it being old and unsafe to the latest reason: that the closure is needed to implement Corrections Department furloughs.
But closing the prison would be a permanent solution to a temporary situation, he said. The mandatory furloughs are not expected to be a permanent policy, Thomas said.
Skolnik told the board that some of the inmate cells at the prison don’t have running water, so those inmates can leave their cells at night to use a toilet.
State Budget Director Andrew Clinger told the board that the closure was expected to save the department about $4 million. There is no money elsewhere in the state general fund budget to make up that $4 million, he said.
But Miller said the department could seek some funding from the Legislature’s contingency fund, which totals about $8 million.
Clinger noted that the contingency fund is used for firefighting costs, which can vary widely from year to year.
Gov. Gibbons on effect of delaying closure of state prison:
Secretary of State Miller on Corrections Department furloughs:
Miller on why closing Nevada State Prison is a bad idea: