Officials moving to shutter Nevada State Prison

Prison officials are moving ahead with plans to close down the historic Nevada State Prison on Fifth Street.

Since May, when the Legislature voted to shut NSP down, Director of Corrections Greg Cox has been slowly moving inmates and staff to other institutions as space became available. He said about 130 close-custody and special-needs inmates have already been moved out of NSP to institutions including Warm Springs and Northern Nevada Correctional Center, both in Carson City.

The most dangerous were moved to Ely State Prison, Nevada's maximum-security institution.

Some special-needs inmates were moved to Lovelock Correctional Center, 70 miles northeast of Reno along Interstate 80.

High Desert Correctional Center in southern Nevada, the state's newest prison, will get nearly all of the more than 500 remaining inmates. That institution has two new and vacant units with enough capacity to hold those inmates.

Cox said the closure is being handled in a four-phase process designed to "limit the impact on staff and the community."

"The Legislature's intent and the department's goal is to complete the closure in a safe, secure and efficient manner and to do this with as few staff layoffs as possible," he said.

More than 200 corrections employees were assigned to NSP.

Cox told lawmakers in May that if they gave him time, he could greatly reduce the number of layoffs the closure would cause.

At the suggestion of state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, the Legislature delayed the governor's plan to close NSP by Oct. 31 back to March 31. Cox said that should reduce the projected 107 layoffs to 30 or less.

The department has already been able to close two units at NSP, which allowed it to move some staff to other area institutions where there are vacancies, including Lovelock.

Over the next few months, additional units will be closed as inmates are transferred out.

Cox told the Board of Examiners earlier this year that nearly all correctional staff willing to transfer would be able to keep a job. He has also said he expects some retirements among veteran officers who don't want to leave the Carson City area.

The closure is driven by the fact that the antiquated design of NSP -- parts of which are more than 100 years old -- requires nearly twice as many correctional staff to operate as the state's newest prison, High Desert in southern Nevada. Because of that difference, Cox testified during the legislative session, it costs $23,615 a year to keep inmates there, compared to just $14,061 at High Desert.

Total savings from shutting the old prison down were projected at $17.3 million over the biennium. The delay until March 31 will eat up an estimated $2.35 million of that, reducing total savings to about $15 million.

Union officials argued closing NSP could leave the department without enough beds if the population starts going up again. It has been declining for several years. But Cox said the state is in no danger of having to build a new prison since it still has the 712-bed Jean prison in southern Nevada, which was mothballed several years ago.

Carson City officials complained that the loss of nearly 200 well-paying jobs would have a magnified impact on the capital's economy.

Together they managed to stave off closure in the 2007 and 2009 Legislatures, but the state's financial crisis was so severe this budget cycle that even they conceded closure was inevitable for the old prison.

The decision is irrevocable since Public Works Board engineers say it would be financially impossible to bring the prison back into good enough condition to reopen. Public Works Manager Gus Nunez said at one point that it would likely be cheaper to build a new prison.

NSP is one of the nation'soldest operating prisons, having opened in 1862, two years before statehood.


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