Prison issues have officials scrambling for answers

State prison officials are working through major decisions on how they handle two groups of minority inmates - women and youthful offenders.

The crisis over the women's prison in North Las Vegas was precipitated by Corrections Corporation of America's decision to withdraw as manager of the facility effective Oct. 1.

That follows two years of negotiations during which the corporation has complained it can't make a profit from what the state pays. Corrections Corporation signed the contract in 1996, agreeing to construct and operate the prison facility in return for a contract lasting potentially until June 2017.

It was a showpiece in the plan by Gov. Kenny Guinn and Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, to privatize prison operations. The corporation was paid $40.03 per day for each inmate with annual inflationary increases of 3 percent. But they started trying to convince the state to change the contract four years into it.

Director of Corrections Jackie Crawford said a bid request was issued this week for any private contractors interested in running the facility, which is home to more than 500 women inmates. But she and deputy director Daryl Rexwinkel said they aren't sure exactly what kind of bids they will get. And Rexwinkel pointed out the prison system has very little time to make a decision on a new contractor or move to have the Department of Corrections take over the operation.

He said the bids are due May 4 and they hope to have the issue before both the Board of Examiners and legislative Interim Finance Committee in June. He said either the state or a new contractor will need that much lead time to take over by Oct. 1.

If the process gets delayed, Crawford told Guinn, "You'd have to declare an emergency because we can't shut down the prison."

If the state ends up taking over the women's prison, that will end private contracts to operate Nevada prisons. A private contractor several years ago pulled out of managing medical care at the Ely State Prison and another contractor dropped the management of Summit View, the state's high-security juvenile prison in Southern Nevada, last year. In each case, those companies complained they weren't making enough money on the contracts they signed with the state.

In addition, Crawford advised Guinn she and her staff are preparing a proposal that could turn the old Jean prison in Southern Nevada into a facility for young-adult prisoners aged 18-25. Many of those young inmates have been in the system since before they were 18.

"Our population of youthful offenders is increasing rapidly," she said. "And 98 percent of them are in there for drug-related offenses."

She said most of them - up to 500 - don't belong with the general population of adult criminals and could be better handled as well as safer in a separate prison.

"A majority of these young people can be educated and rehabilitated," she said.

Guinn suggested she put together a formal proposal for the upcoming budget and Legislature.

Contact Geoff Dornan at or at 687-8750.


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