Director of Corrections Howard Skolnik said Tuesday the state's inmate population, which has been exploding in size for more than two years, appears to be leveling off.
Because of that news, the department of corrections may be able to save the state more than $77 million.
"We're only seeing about eight inmates a month growth," he said.
He said that is much slower than the past couple of years.
"We were growing a half a prison a year."
Skolnik told an Interim Finance Subcommittee the much slower growth means the state can make numerous budget cuts to the corrections construction budget.
"Our population is flat pretty much across the board and that would include women," he said.
He said given that crime, especially property crime, increases in times of economic trouble, the slowing of inmate growth is hard to understand.
"It's counter-intuitive, I know. But the bottom line is it's going down," he said. "It buys us time to get through these economic times and not spend the money until the state has it."
For the past few years, the population of female inmates has grown by double digits, far outstripping capacity at the state's only women's prison in North Las Vegas. Part of that overcrowding will be taken care of in the next month when a new 240-bed unit opens there.
He said he talked with officials at the Clark County Detention Center on Tuesday morning and was told that institution's population is also dramatically down.
"If their population is down, that should keep ours down since they're our biggest customer," he said.
He said the total number of inmates has been hovering around 12,700 since late last year.
Even though lower than expected, he said the total population is still 234 inmates higher than budgeted for by the 2007 Legislature. To cover inmate-driven expenses for them, he asked for and received $153,368 from the Board of Examiners on Tuesday.
Skolnik said the slowing growth doesn't even factor in the coming reduction in inmate population as more than 1,000 inmates made eligible for early parole by recent legislation get released.
Based on Skolnik's report, the committee agreed to recommend general fund reductions of $29.5 million and shifting another $48 million in projects from general fund to bond money.
Together, that brings the total general fund cash freed up in the corrections budget to $77.5 million.
Skolnik said with slower growth, some projects can be canceled, including construction of new housing units at Southern Desert Correctional Center.
Some others, such as the 100-bed transitional housing unit at the women's prison, he said simply aren't needed. He said the women who qualify for those minimum security transitional beds are being housed in one wing at Casa Grande, the men's transitional institution, and that there are only 28 women in those 50 beds.
Several other budget reductions, he said, were made possible because of lower-than-expected bids because the slumping construction industry is making contractors more competitive. The 384-bed expansion at Indian Springs, for example, came in more than $12 million below projections.
The board recommendations will be voted on today by the full Interim Finance Committee.
• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at email@example.com or 687-8750.