Union officials vowed Wednesday to fight any attempt by Gov. Jim Gibbons to close down the Nevada State Prison on Fifth Street.
Gibbons said Tuesday his proposed budget for the next biennium will include closure of the prison, which dates to the 1870s, and will save an estimated $19 million a year.
"We have to close NSP simply because of the infrastructure cost of maintaining it," he said after the Board of Prison Commissioners meeting.
That recommendation was originally made in January by Director of Corrections Howard Skolnik but rejected by lawmakers during the 24th Special Session of the Legislature in June. They said that drastic a move would require much more discussion than there was time for in a one-day special Legislature.
Dennis Mallory of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and Ed Flagg of the Nevada Corrections Association said closing NSP is a bad idea that they will strongly oppose in the 2009 Legislature.
"We just don't think it makes any sense," said Mallory. "Last session, we needed to build all these prisons, and now we're shutting down prisons and camps."
"It certainly appears to be a priority for them but we're going to fight it like hell in the Legislature," he said.
Mallory said the impact wouldn't be limited to just the overcrowded prison system.
"I don't think the economy in Carson City can afford to have 200 jobs removed from the community," he said. "The 200 employees who work at NSP, 80 percent are homeowners, all make fairly good money and they contribute a lot to the local economy."
Flagg said those 200 jobs are worth more than $5 million a year to the Carson City economy.
He said closing the prison when the system is so overcrowded is "absolutely ridiculous."
"I understand NSP is old and costs $20 million a year to run. But we're putting guys in gymnasiums now, and they're going to shut down a prison that houses a thousand inmates? Where are we going to put them?"
He said before they shut Nevada State Prison, "they need to rethink and build another state-of-the-art prison up north."
Both he and Mallory said they could understand closing down the "lower yard" " the portion of the prison which is more than 100 years old.
But instead of closing the entire prison, they said Units 6-12, which are newer and, they argue, still serviceable, should be renovated and incorporated into the Warm Springs prison next door.
"The old cell house? I agree there's no way you're going to renovate that, but 6 through 12 I think you certainly can."
Flagg made a similar proposal. The old cell house and lower yard, one of the nation's oldest still operating prisons, he said should be "declared a historic landmark and opened up to tourists."
Flagg said the need for more beds is there in both the north and the south.
"Right now we're bringing in 26 inmates a week and that's not counting the parole retake we get. Down south, they're picking up 75 inmates a week.
"We're busting at the seams right now."
- Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.