Board delays decision on prison |

Board delays decision on prison

The Board of Prison Commissioners voted 2-1 Tuesday to once again kick the can down the road on whether to close Nevada State Prison.

Secretary of State Ross Miller and Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto voted to delay a decision until next month, with Gov. Jim Gibbons opposed. The issue has been on the table for more than three years with several delays in deciding what to do with the institution.

After the vote, Director of Administration Andrew Clinger said not closing NSP, the state’s oldest prison, would cost the state several million dollars in overtime this fiscal year – money he said the general fund doesn’t have.

“I don’t know where that money would come from,” Clinger said.

Director of Corrections Howard Skolnik said the delay means he has to start the process of filling what could be 40 or more vacant positions at the 5th Street prison – positions he has held vacant in an attempt to avoid layoffs when the prison closes.

“I’m starting a class as quickly as I can,” he said, adding that it isn’t safe to continue to operate without full staffing.

But he said hiring those new officers means that, if and when the state does shut down NSP, there will have to be layoffs.

Under the plan he presented to the board Tuesday, Skolnik said there would be no layoffs and no forced transfers of officers out of the area. He also assured the board he has enough vacant beds to cover projected inmate populations for the next 10 years without building a new prison.

Miller said he believes filling those vacant positions would greatly reduce overtime costs and enable the prison to survive until lawmakers can meet and appropriate money to cover the costs.

He said he wants to restore the prison system’s exemption from the day-a-month unpaid furloughs other state workers are taking.

Miller also questioned inmate population projections, saying if the crime rate goes up, Skolnik could run out of beds, forcing construction of a new prison.

Masto agreed with Skolnik that his prison system is seriously understaffed but said she too wants more details before voting on shutting the prison.

NSP is the state’s first prison, opened even before Nevada became a state. The newest parts of the institution were built in the 1980s and Skolnik has said repeatedly it is the most staff intensive and least efficient institution he has. Bringing it up to code, he said, would cost $30 million or more.

Skolnik agreed not to start wholesale transfers of inmates out of NSP until the next prison board meeting. No date has been set for that meeting.