With the need for a new jail in Lyon County looming, county officials decided to spend some time in the Carson City slammer.
Carson City Sheriff Kenny Furlong and Sheriff's Lt. Clay Wall escorted a group of Lyon officials that included the sheriff, undersheriff, county manager, county engineer and four county commissioners through the Carson facility, from the booking center to the courtroom.
Along the way, Wall advised Lyon officials what to do or not to do in their jail.
"Don't put in drop ceilings," he said, pointing to the ceilings in the pod and explaining that an inmate could get up there and get hurt.
Wall also recommended lots of storage space in the kitchen area, as it costs less to buy food in bulk. He said the Carson jail's kitchen manager has saved more than $10,000 by making deals for bulk food, and if the jail had more storage space, they would have saved more.
But the biggest way Lyon County can save money is through cameras and correct classification of inmates, Furlong said.
Cameras follow the inmate from the sally port where they are brought into the building to booking to an observation cell, to the pod to which he or she is assigned. A service technician in a central control room has a view of all cells and all cameras in the facility.
"The video surveillance for the safety and security of staff is tremendously important," Lyon County Sheriff Allen Veil said. "It's also important for liability reasons."
Classification and care of inmates by a psychologist saves money in the long run as well, by pinpointing unstable or suicidal inmates and ensuring they are under observation and receive the mental-health care they need.
Furlong said jails have become de facto mental health facilities, and the jail could be held responsible if an inmate died or was seriously injured.
He said the cost of a psychologist is minimal compared to what they would pay if a tragedy occurred.
"One death in your facility can cost you more than you will ever pay that person," Furlong said.
Commissioner Larry McPherson, in whose district the new Lyon facility will be built, was impressed with the Carson's central control unit.
"You have one person on duty and you know what's going on from all angles," he said. "It's a cost-saving measure."
But Veil was concerned that the Carson control room operator was often alone to view the inmate pods, deputies on the floor and many cameras. "That's just extremely difficult for one person," he said.
Veil liked the fact that Carson jail officials could do everything on site.
"Anytime you move an inmate, it creates a security risk," Veil said. Lyon County Jail officials must transport inmates to doctors and dentists, mental heath professionals and court appearances at five courts stretching across the vast county.
"Having a facility where courts are located in the same facility will improve our safety and cut down on transportation," he said, though he added the downside of that is that residents who are witnesses or victims could be the ones having to travel to get to court.
He also said he preferred direct supervision to indirect, because recidivism rates were lower. But he added it was premature to make decisions now.
Veil and McPherson will both be going to a National Institute of Corrections' Planning of New Institutions program, also called PONI, in Longmont, Colo., on March 27-29.
"When we get there and get a little more education on the facilities, all the pros and cons, we'll be better able to answer the questions," he said.
• Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at kwoodmansee@ nevadaappeal.com or 882-2111 ext. 351.