Union members are objecting to what they say are plans to shutter the old Nevada State Prison months ahead of the deadline set by the 2011 Legislature.
Prison spokesman Steve Suwe denied that, saying the prison will remain open until March 31, 2012. But he said corrections officials are moving inmates and staff to other prisons as bed space and jobs become available.
In a letter to Cox, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees objected not only to the accelerated closure schedule but the statements by Warden E.K. McDaniel that it wouldn't be possible to assign transferring officers to the prison of their choice based on seniority.
"We believe this is a violation of AR301," said the letter from Vishnu Subramaniam of AFSCME, referring to the regulation giving officers a say in where they are assigned. "We believe every employee should have the right to transfer based on their seniority to the prison of their choice."
The prison is being closed because, as the oldest institution in the system, it is the least efficient and badly in need of millions in upgrades and repairs. Parts of the prison are more than 100 years old and require nearly double the correctional staff to operate as are needed at High Desert, Nevada's newest prison.
Cox told lawmakers shutting NSP down by March 31 is expected to save some $15 million.
The letter from the union calls on Cox to keep NSP open until the end of March.
"We don't believe there is any compelling or financial reason to close the prison any earlier than the date given by the Legislature," it says. "We still believe that there will be no layoffs even with a later closure date of the prison."
Suwe said that NSP will remain open through March, but he said it's necessary to move the inmates out in an extended and organized process. It would be impossible, he said, to move everyone at the last minute.
Since the end of the 2011 Legislature, nearly half the inmate population has been moved to other institutions as space became available. Suwe said the population Monday was 326, down from its peak of more than 700.
"We're going to do this in a controlled, calm manner with safety, security and efficiency in mind to minimize impacts to inmates and staff and try to have no layoffs," he said.
Subramaniam said staff members at the prison think it's all happening too fast. He said that NSP has the space and staff, and that moving people out this far ahead of the deadline is "jumping the gun."
"We're not saying as they have less prisoners, they should not reduce the number of staff," he said. "We're just saying they shouldn't move the prisoners out yet. They could do it closer to when the deadline is than right now. They're just making this transition a lot sooner than the Legislature told them to."
Suwe said he doesn't understand the objection because, to date, not one correctional officer at NSP has been laid off. He said they are being moved to other area institutions as jobs become available.
"If I was told I was moving from NSP to Warm Springs, two blocks down the road, I think I'd be a lot happier than if I was getting laid off," he said.