Closure of Nevada State Prison gaining traction

By Geoff Dornan 

Feb 16, 2011

 Nevada Appeal

Support for the plan to shut down Nevada State Prison appeared to gain some traction among lawmakers touring the historic institution Tuesday.

“I’m leaning toward it’s a logical decision,” said Assembly Judiciary Chairman William Horne, D-Las Vegas, following the two-hour tour of the historic prison on Fifth Street.

The previous director of corrections Howard Skolnik tried twice to shut down the prison, the state’s oldest and most labor intensive institution. Lawmakers including Horne and Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, objected not only to the loss of nearly 200 jobs in the Carson City area but to what they argued was an ill-

conceived and vague plan with estimated savings that seemed to change with every presentation.

Skolnik’s replacement Greg Cox, however, said he has much firmer numbers and a more detailed plan. His estimate is closing the prison would save $16.1 million over the biennium, primarily in salaries and benefits to the correctional workers who now staff the prison.

Cox said while the prison takes almost 200 employees to operate and manages more than 700 inmates, the new, vacant units at High Desert Prison in Southern Nevada would require only 59 officers to handle 672 inmates.

He said if lawmakers act soon and give him until Oct. 31 to shutter the prison, he can dramatically reduce the number of layoffs to as few as 30.

“The numbers do make a little more sense than last time,” said Horne. “There’s a better plan in place to absorb the inmates.”

Gene Columbus representing the correctional workers said the union still opposes that move because, with one less medium security institution, the system would “lose flexibility, the ability to manage inmates.” He said that increases the chances of inmates who shouldn’t be housed in close proximity being able to get to each other and cause problems for other inmates and staff.

Several other members of the Judiciary Committee said they too support the plan including Republicans Richard McArthur of Las Vegas, Ira Hansen of Reno and Kelly Kite of Douglas County.

“I can’t argue with the facts they gave us when we’ve got a new prison with empty beds,” said Kite.

Hansen said he agrees with closing it: “We’re in such a financial mess that every penny needs to be accounted for.”

He suggested the state might recoup some money from the institution by turning the oldest parts of it, built in the 1800s, into a museum.

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