Another Opinion: No furloughs for prison guards, but staffing crisis not over

State prisons should always have a sufficient number of guards to protect public safety and ensure that all armed personnel are alert and well rested. The Nevada Corrections Department is already dangerously close to falling below those standards because the prisons it runs have the money to operate at only 85 percent of recommended staffing levels.

Imagine how much more strain would have been placed on the department had it been forced to schedule its guards for one-day-a-month unpaid furloughs. That is what other state employees are required to take over the next two years in a budget-cutting move.

And that is why it was prudent Tuesday for the state Board of Examiners, which consists of Gov. Jim Gibbons, Secretary of State Ross Miller and Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, to exempt guards from furloughs through June.

Corrections Department Director Howard Skolnik said furloughs would have endangered guards and inmates by increasing the likelihood of injury or death.

The fact that it took some shuffling of state money to give guards this reprieve is of little relief, though. Skolnik should not have to beg for funding when it comes to guard staffing. What Nevadans should demand is for Gibbons and the Nevada Legislature to find new ways to generate sufficient revenue so that staffing levels do not become an issue.

Instead, lawmakers rely on the Band-Aid approach to budgeting. That explains why Skolnik is counting on a possible $2.5 million-a-year lease of the shuttered Southern Nevada Correctional Center in Jean to a private company to help defray the cost of furlough exemptions for guards in the future.

Prison guards are too vital to be used for short-term budgetary relief. Nevadans and their prison system deserve better.


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