A thorough study of prison staffing needs in the state was endorsed Monday by the Nevada Board of Prison Commissioners.
Director of Corrections Greg Cox said that study by the National Institute of Corrections will have to go much farther than just looking at how many correctional officers there are at each institution.
"Simply because you have more staff doesn't mean the prison is safer," he told the board consisting of the governor, secretary of state and attorney general.
He said experts will have to look at each institution in the state because each has its own needs and problems.
Asked by Gov. Brian Sandoval when the last study was done, Cox said, "I'm not aware of our ever doing that."
Sandoval said he was surprised: "This issue comes up every meeting. We want to get some answers."
Deputy Director E.K. McDaniel told the commission each institution must be evaluated on its own merits and, within each institution, each shift. He said that includes an examination of differences in each physical plant, each custody level and other factors.
McDaniel said that, overall, Nevada has a ratio of 7.4 inmates for each officer, a bit higher than the national average. But, at Northern Nevada Correctional Center, the ratio is 6.4 per guard.
Other institutions had different rates with the highest being Southern Desert at 9.9 inmates per followed by Lovelock with 8.26.
Sandoval said his concern was that the study be done thoroughly and right so that he as well as other decision makers including legislators have good data.
But Gene Columbus, head of the correctional officers association, said he was concerned the analysis is just "kicking the can."
He said a number of veteran officers are "hanging on to see what happens next (legislative) session." If nothing improves, he said some of them are probably going to leave.
Senior Correctional Officer Michael Gavin told the commission at least one ongoing lawsuit is a result of the lack of staffing and that, at NNCC, staffing is "far below adequate."
Cox told the commission he would send the formal letter to the National Institute of Corrections but that he doubted the study would be complete before the 2013 Legislature is done in June. He also told commissioners there will probably be a cost to doing the study.