Saying existing staffing levels are inadequate, Prisons Director Charles Daniels on Wednesday urged lawmakers to fund a department wide staffing study.
“We, in our opinion, do not have enough staff to operate the institution,” he told a joint hearing of the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means committees.
His proposed budget includes $289,000 to conduct an independent study to guide the executive branch and lawmakers in setting funding for the department.
His comments came after subcommittee Chair Brittney Miller, D-Las Vegas, questioned the need for any more studies.
“Why do we keep studying stuff when we’ve already identified the problem?” she asked. “Are we going to gather data and information we don’t already know?”
Daniels said the nature of corrections has changed dramatically in recent years with his custody staff now having to provide many more services than just keeping inmates locked up.
He said he has an excellent staff and officers but that they struggle daily to keep up with their responsibilities. COVID-19, he said, has just further complicated managing the department’s institutions. The minimum staffing, they said, also drives up overtime when any correctional officers are out.
Deputy Director Harold Wickham said they are looking to commission “kind of an overall, broad picture of where the department needs to be.”
“Corrections has changed mightily but policies have not,” he said.
Wickham also told lawmakers that it’s simply not possible to fully staff the Ely maximum security prison and that the solution the department is recommending is to convert Ely to a medium security facility that requires far fewer staff.
Ely Warden William Gittere said Ely is 125 below authorized staffing but that, if converted to medium security, the 160 uniformed staff he has would be able to manage the institution.
To handle the department’s most dangerous inmates including those on death row, he said High desert prison in southern Nevada would be converted to maximum security.
Recruiting correctional officers in Clark County is much easier than recruiting them to work in Ely.
Daniels said High Desert already has the type of security features needed to manage those inmates and that, as the primary intake facility, High Desert already handles the most dangerous including death row inmates.
After questioning by Se. Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, Wickham said they are looking at significant policy changes to enable reopening of the Ely Conservation Camp. It was closed last summer when staff was transferred to the Ely prison to fill vacancies. Goicoechea said a lot of the work the camp’s inmates were doing just isn’t getting done, including community service work in eastern Nevada.
Wickham said they are working to get the community trustee inmates back to work in, “the very near future.”