Gibbons warns against prison overcrowding
Associated Press Writer
Expanding Nevada prisons is an absolute necessity in a growing state regardless of what other reforms lawmakers might consider, Gov. Jim Gibbons said Thursday.
Gibbons commented following a tour of Warm Springs Correctional Center, where prison staff had just finished putting an extra 60 inmates into a block of cells built to hold 89. Most of the 12-by-12-foot cells were crammed with two bunk beds each – a change that led staff and inmates to nickname the “privileged housing” building “the ghetto.”
“It doesn’t take much more than that to force the system into a meltdown,” Gibbons said after seeing the cells. “We have reached our limit, and we’re going to have to start doing the things that were put off for years.”
The governor said he’s open to reconsidering the state’s sentencing rules, but only for nonviolent offenders.
“The one thing I won’t do is let violent prisoners out early,” said Gibbons. “The nonviolent ones, we need to rethink how expensive it is to keep them here.”
The governor said Nevada currently has more than 13,000 prisoners in a system built to hold less than 9,000, and if the state doesn’t do something to get its prison population under control there’s a risk of a federal takeover of the system.
Legislators are still considering a variety of proposals that would affect sentencing in the state, including AB510, a bill to double the good-time credits prisoners get for good behavior and for completing educational programs.
Warm Springs, a minimum-security facility, is built to house 510 inmates but will be holding more than 600 by next week, said Warden Stefanie Humphrey.
Since the prison hasn’t added additional staff, that means longer waits before prisoners can get into work or education programs – which they are required to complete in order to earn the credits they need to get out of prison.
“We’re extending their sentences, basically,” said state prisons chief Howard Skolnik. The crowding leads to more idle time, frustration and arguments among prisoners, he added.