Prison guards will picket outside the Nevada State Prison on Fifth Street today over complaints that sweeping policy changes have compromised working conditions and staff safety.
Scott MacKenzie of the State of Nevada Employees Association said there was an agreement to improve communications between prison administrators and the correctional officers.
"But in the last six months, there's been a lot of change in personnel with the administration," MacKenzie said.
Most of the top administrators at NSP have been changed since Glen Whorton replaced Jackie Crawford as Director of Corrections.
"It seems like they're coming in and saying 'This is the way it is' - being heavy handed with their officers."
"I'm not saying the officers are right on every issue, but there's no reason they can't talk to us," he said. "A lot of these decisions come down to safety and security. Why wouldn't you want the input of your officers before implementing something like that?"
Some of the complaints center on the cancellation of inmate privileges such as gardening and music classes ,which some guards argue help keep inmates happier and more manageable. Whorton said earlier that some of those programs will eventually be restored, but with appropriate controls.
Both Whorton and MacKenzie said they believe things can be worked out. But Whorton said there are some changes he has no choice but to make.
"The issue is, before (Warden Bill) Donat got over there, they had overspent their budget. They overspent their budget because they were doing some funny stuff," he said. "We're just conforming to the budget we were given."
He said on one issue - the number of staff who are allowed to be off on leave or vacation at any one time - the protesters are complaining on both sides. He cut that number from 11, which the former warden allowed, to the nine he says are allowed to be off under the existing budget. Whorton said some are complaining they can't get time off when they want it, while others complain there aren't enough officers working at any one time.
He said he is having the governor's auditors review that issue and, if the staffing "relief factor" needs to be changed, he'll take it to the Legislature for proper funding and approval.
MacKenzie said some of the complaints seem small - such as the decision to take hot plates and office refrigerators out of the guard towers. But he said officers in those posts work 12 hours straight - including eating lunch in the tower - which makes those items important to them.
Whorton said it's not true there has been no discussion with SNEA and the staff at the prison.
"Maybe we could do a little better job of discussing changes," he said.
Whorton said he is scheduled to talk to the staff at NSP on May 5 about some of these issues.
But, he said, other issues are not open for discussion.
"In some cases it's not appropriate because I am responsible and my wardens are responsible for the security of the institutions," he said.
MacKenzie said he expects up to 200 employees for the rally and protest beginning about 10:45 a.m. today.
• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at email@example.com or 687-8750.