Skolnik: California riot fuels furlough fear

A correctional officer looks over the damage  of a prison room destroyed from a riot last week at the California Institution for Men Wednesday, August 19, 2009 in Chino, Calif.. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Wednesday toured the Southern California prison where 175 inmates were injured in a riot earlier this month, likening the devasation to a scene from one of his movies. (AP Photo/The Press-Enterprise, Stan Lim) ** NO SALES; MAGS OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT **

A correctional officer looks over the damage of a prison room destroyed from a riot last week at the California Institution for Men Wednesday, August 19, 2009 in Chino, Calif.. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Wednesday toured the Southern California prison where 175 inmates were injured in a riot earlier this month, likening the devasation to a scene from one of his movies. (AP Photo/The Press-Enterprise, Stan Lim) ** NO SALES; MAGS OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT **

CARSON CITY - The head of Nevada's prison system Tuesday said his fears of requiring correctional staff to take furloughs were exacerbated by last month's prison riot in Southern California.

Howard Skolnik reiterated to the state Board of Examiners that he doesn't believe furloughs at state correctional institutions can be safely implemented.

In August, 175 inmates were injured during a riot at the California Institution for Men in Chino, where seven of eight housing units were left uninhabitable.

"On the day they had their incident, approximately 15 percent of their officers were on furlough," Skolnik said. "I personally don't believe that having those officers present would have stopped that incident from taking place, but I think 15 more staff could have significantly reduced the time and amount of damage that was done."

Nevada lawmakers, trying to cope with a huge revenue shortfall, required state workers starting in July to take one day off each month without pay, amounting to a 4.6 percent pay cut.

The move was designed to save the state about $330 million over the current two-year budget cycle that ends June 30, 2011.

So far, Nevada's prison system has been granted exemptions from the furlough mandate, but the latest exemption expires at the end of the month.

The first exemption was granted in July, when the board, chaired by Gov. Jim Gibbons, asked that Skolnik submit a plan showing which of his more than 1,800 staffers could or couldn't take time off.

Skolnik on Tuesday told the board, which also includes Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Secretary of State Ross Miller, that prison medical staff has since been incorporated into the furlough program, as well as upper-ranked prison officers.

After the meeting, Skolnik told The Associated Press that nearly half of the department's employees are participating in furloughs, the exceptions being "essentially the folks down there every day watching the inmates".

A proposal on how the department would meet the mandate, if required, was submitted last month but has not been released publicly out of security concerns.

"The plan was submitted as the only way we feel we can implement furloughs across the board," Skolnik said, adding, "I don't like the plan. I don't think it's a safe plan."

Skolnik later said the measures include limiting inmate movement and reducing inmate programs and visiting hours, "things that will make the prisons more tense".

Skolnik said prisons are currently staffed at 85 percent of recommended levels.

He previously has said that prison safety is paramount, and he'd quit rather than impose unsafe staffing arrangements.

"There will come a point when I know it's just not a good place to work any more and there's nothing I can do to make it better," he told the AP.

Budget Director Andrew Clinger said a special Board of Examiners meeting will be scheduled within the next two weeks to either recommend exempting the department for the remainder of the biennium or to approve Skolnik's plan for meeting the cuts.

Clinger said lawmakers allocated $4 million for public safety exemptions to the furlough requirement, but exempting the prison system would cost about twice that much during the next two years.

The Legislature's Interim Finance Committee, which handles fiscal matters during regular sessions, also could be asked for more funding on an emergency basis.

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