Corrections chief: Prison isn’t ready for tours
When one of the founders of the effort to turn Nevada State Prison into a museum said recently the group was hoping to start offering tours on Nevada Day, it took others among the organization’s most knowledgeable leaders — not to mention state prison officials — completely by surprise.
Myron Carpenter, a retired Douglas High teacher and history aficionado, made the statement saying the NSP historic preservation group can start offering tours when it’s ready. He said he thought it would be an excellent addition to the list of Nevada Day activities and events.
Deputy Director of Corrections Brian Connett said that was news to him since there are a lot of things that have to be done before the public can visit the prison.
“The department has been working with the historical preservation society but we haven’t heard that it’s opening,” Connett said this week.
Connett was joined by former prison director Glen Whorton, another of the non-profit group’s founders, who said the story caused “a lot of consternation because a lot of complex work has to take place before that can happen.”
Whorton credited Assemblyman Pete Livermore, D-Carson City, for introducing the bill during the 2013 Legislature enabling the Nevada State Prison Historic Preservation Society to begin working toward turning NSP into a museum and tourist attraction.
Whorton said that is the goal for the historic 150 year old prison on Fifth Street but that, “we’re at the very beginning of this process.”
“There are issues of liability, issues of condition, issues of support from the department of corrections, state of Nevada and our organization,” he said.
Whorton, who worked for corrections 32 years before retiring as director, said some people in the group think the process is taking too long.
“Myron said he is concerned about how slow things are going,” he said. “From my experience in government, this is not going slow. This is proceeding appropriately.”
He also said no one is authorized to just go into the prison, not even the preservation group, because the license plate “tag plant” is still operating there using inmate labor and occasionally other inmates are doing yard and other maintenance work. He said the state still owns NSP and Corrections still has control of it.
He said it’s time to get everybody together, all those involved, to start working out the details.
“We’re talking about specific actions that have to take place and the most obvious of those is the vetting of volunteers,” Whorton said.
He said that means setting policies and processes, doing background checks and providing training for those volunteers.
In addition, he said there are liability issues since the prison, some parts of which are more than 100 years old, is anything but Americans with Disabilities Act compliant. There are numerous dangers in just walking around and through the old prison. There are financing issues, repairs to utilities and other issues that must be addressed before NSP opens for business as a museum as well.
Among them, before anyone begins offering tours, he said they also have to develop the educational programs to tell visitors about NSP, explain its history and what those visitors are seeing.
“We need to provide programming, have some meat to these things,” he said.
Whorton said a meeting this week was planned to try focus the process so those things can all get done.