Nevada lawmakers vote 5 percent pay raise for Ely prison guards to reduce vacancy rate
With a vacancy rate of 26 percent at the Ely State Prison, a joint subcommittee voted Tuesday to support a 5 percent raise for correctional staff at both the prison and the conservation camp that supports it.
Ely is home to Nevada’s most dangerous inmates including all of those on death row. But the prison has had trouble attracting guards because of its remote location as well as the dangerous inmate population. Officers there received a 5 percent pay boost until 2011 when it was eliminated as a budget reduction measure during the recession.
Lawmakers were told that 74 of the 285 custody staff positions are currently vacant at the Ely prison.
“We are in a very unsafe scenario until we get staff,” said Sen. Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, whose district includes the prison.
He pointed out that major repairs to boilers and HVAC at the now-30-year-old maximum security prison have several units shut down.
“I’m very concerned how we can return any more prisoners to that system without staff,” he said.
Director of Corrections James Dzurenda said the 5 percent pay differential will help retain correctional staff at Ely and the camp.
“Me personally, I don’t think it will help with recruitment,” he said.
The subcommittee voted unanimously to support the $1.4 million it will cost to give 5 percent more pay to correctional and senior correctional officers, sergeants and lieutenants there as well as the $85,543 it will cost to do the same for the conservation camp staff.
Dzurenda told the panel Ely isn’t the only place corrections has trouble hiring correctional staff. There are currently 191 vacancies and staff indicated that the majority are in Nevada’s rural institutions. Subcommittee Chairman Sen. David Parks, D-Las Vegas, said based on what happens with the Ely pay raises, lawmakers may see requests next session to expand the rural pay differential to other rural facilities such as Lovelock.
But lawmakers decided not to support the addition of 52 new positions for medical transport and guarding inmates while they are in hospitals for treatment outside of the prison system. They voted instead to back 25 positions and none of the supervisory positions on that list. Staff advised them the addition of eight new medical transport and 17 guarding positions will cost $3.3 million over the biennium instead of the $5.6 million recommended in the governor’s budget.
“We’ll make it work,” said Dzurenda after the hearing.
Corrections is the first major department to have its budgets closed this session.