Gov. Jim Gibbons said Tuesday the old Nevada State Prison must be shut down to save money.
"We have to close NSP simply because of the infrastructure cost of maintaining it," he said following a Board of Prison Commissioners meeting at the Capitol.
Closing Nevada's oldest prison and one of the oldest continually operated prisons in the country, will save an estimated $19 million a year, according to Director of Corrections Howard Skolnik.
Gibbons pointed out the Board of Examiners was forced to spend $60,000 earlier Tuesday to replace a leaky water heater at the prison on East Fifth Street. He said those kinds of costs are a constant issue at that prison.
Skolnik said it isn't just the repairs and replacements required because the building and infrastructure are so old. He said because of the design, the prison also requires far more staff per inmate than the state's new prisons.
Skolnik recommended shutting the prison down months ago as one way of meeting the necessary budget cuts. The Legislature, when it met in special session, rejected that idea.
Asked when the prison would be shuttered and the 900 inmates there moved, Gibbons said "when we get the authorization to close it from the Legislature."
Skolnik said closure of the prison will be in his and the governor's budget proposal for fiscal year 2010-2011. He has said in the past it won't happen overnight, that it will take time to find beds for those medium-security inmates and time to relocate the 200 staff who work there.
He said if the inmate population continues to grow but no more money is available, he will have to shut down four of the remaining nine conservation camps.
Jeff Fontaine, representing the Nevada Association of County Officials, said closing conservation camps would cause problems especially for rural counties which rely on those inmates to fight fires, help with road and civic projects in small communities. In addition, he said those camps provide badly needed jobs.
"The camp provides 30 jobs in Pioche," he said. "You take 30 jobs out of a community of 800 and you're going to have a significant impact."
The alternative to that, Skolnik said, would be to close "another major institution."
"We do not feel that the population will allow this as minimum inmates can be placed in medium beds but the opposite is not true," he advised the commission consisting of the governor, attorney general and secretary of state.
Skolnik said part of whether further closures are necessary depends on what revenue the system might get by renting out the Southern Nevada Correctional Center, probably to the federal government.
Skolnik told the commission he is unable to cut most of his budget because 78 percent of the cost is personnel " guards " and 10.5 percent is "inmate driven" costs which, by law and court rulings, can't be cut.
He said that leaves 11.5 percent "for everything else we do."
"Without closure of either another major institution or four camps, we cannot meet the 14 percent," he said.
The alternative, he said, is reducing staff.
"I don't want to cut people but I don't know what else to do. I can't cut food and clothes " the courts would kill me."
Decisions on the 2010-2011 fiscal budget haven't yet been made.
This year's budget cuts, however, will be presented to the Interim Finance Committee on Thursday. Altogether, they generate a total savings of $9.39 million. The largest single savings on the list is to save $3.1 million by delay Phase 5 of High Desert State Prison. Another large piece of that reduction " $1.26 million a year " came from shutting down Lyon County's Silver Springs Conservation Camp for women.
Skolnik said he was able to transfer the remaining female inmates there south to the Jean camp because the prison system has seen a dramatic reduction in minimum security female inmates over the past year and all those who qualify can fit in Jean.
Likewise, he said, he can save more than $900,000 by delaying the addition of 200 beds at the women's prison in North Las Vegas.
IFC will review those recommendations and vote on them Thursday.
- Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.