Assembly Judiciary members tour prison
March 9, 2013
Members of the Assembly Judiciary Committee toured Northern Nevada Correctional Center on Friday at the urging of Chairman Jason Frierson, D-Las Vegas.“It’s important as a committee that we see one of the facilities that is the end product of the criminal justice system,” he said after the tour through the institution, which houses some 1,500 medium-security inmates.Some of the lawmakers had never been through a prison and asked a wide variety of questions. Several of the new Assembly members, however, said they have some experience in seeing the inside of a correctional facility. Heidi Swank, D-Las Vegas, said she served on a juvenile justice committee and has toured a southern Nevada center. Douglas County’s Jim Wheeler, a Republican, was in law enforcement in Southern California.Warden Isidro Baca told them several things make NNCC unique, including that it houses most of the senior citizen inmates and the Regional Medical Center, which provides hospital services for all Northern Nevada institutions as well as prison industries programs including furniture and mattress construction and the print shop.The dairy supplying milk products to the prison is run at nearby Stewart Conservation Camp, along with the wild-horse gentling program and a small beef cattle ranch, Baca said.Baca said the NNCC has an older inmate population than, say, the High Desert State Prison north of Las Vegas and that it’s less difficult to manage. Serious assaults among inmates are much less frequent, he said, adding that there is “very minimal if any gang issue at NNCC.” Active gang members “go to other institutions,” Baca said.Staffers said the average inmate age at NNCC is 50 — compared with 28 at High Desert.Deputy Director E.K. McDaniel replied to a question by Frierson by saying his department strongly supports the governor’s proposal to move Parole into the Department of Corrections. That would provide the best continuity in handling each inmate from intake to parole, he said, because the case workers inside would be able to work with the parole officers. That should improve the inmate’s chances of making it on the outside, McDaniel said.“It makes it kind of like a one-stop shop,” he said. “We would know this guy from beginning to the end.”Tour participants were told the average stay in “intake” when a prisoner arrives is about 21 days. During that time, the prisoner gets a thorough health and psychological exam, his education level is recorded and he learns the rules of living in a prison. A review covers the prisoner’s criminal history and conduct in custody before imprisonment, as well as his attitude, in setting his classification level. That decides what programs and jobs an inmate qualifies for and how much freedom he will have within whatever institution he is finally sent to.It also determines what educational classes a prisoner needs.Kyle Watt, head teacher at the prison, said the goal is to get every inmate his high school diploma. Asked by Assemblyman James Ohrenschall, D-Las Vegas, he estimated 70 percent of inmates arrive without a diploma.Watt, who along with the other teachers is employed by Carson City School District, not the prison, said those diplomas are the key to inmates staying out of prison once released. He pointed out that the diploma says Carson City School District, not NNCC.“I can’t think of a better job,” he said.McDaniel echoed that: “The best program you could ever do in my 40 years in this business is education.”Richard Carrillo, D-Las Vegas, asked what happens to money earned by inmates or sent by family members. Baca said that if those inmates have restitution or child support due, “they never see that money.” It comes off the top of every check, he said.Lawmakers praised the quality of work in the furniture shop, which Marketing Coordinator Bill Quenga said serves primarily public entities but has a growing number of private customers. One of that shop’s desk systems is in the reception area of the governor’s office.Prison industries programs, McDaniel said, are there not only to teach inmates skills they can use after release but to keep them busy and more satisfied while inside.“They’re much happier when they have a job,” he said. “My old warden would say a working inmate is a happy inmate.”Lawmakers and staffers spent more than two hours touring NNCC and the adjacent Stewart Conservation Camp.