Gibbons, Miller spar over fate of prison | NevadaAppeal.com
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Gibbons, Miller spar over fate of prison

SANDRA CHEREB
Associated Press Writer

Gov. Jim Gibbons and Secretary of State Ross Miller sparred Wednesday over the governor’s push to close the aging Nevada State Prison, with both claiming public safety is on their side.

In an opinion essay published Friday in the Nevada Appeal, Miller defended the state prison board’s rejection earlier this month to allow the transfer of inmates and staff from the 140-year-old prison in Carson City.

Miller said closing the prison won’t compensate for staffing shortages caused by requiring correctional officers to take a furlough day each month, and that correctional officers should be exempt from furloughs, as they were before July 1.

“The true issue is whether our state can sustain deeper cuts in our Department of Corrections by furloughing front-line corrections staff and, if we do, what impact that will have on the safety of our communities,” Miller wrote. “The safety issues caused by furloughing corrections officers will not disappear when we close a prison.”

Gibbons, responding in a statement, argued moving staff and inmates to newer prisons would mean more officers at those facilities and save about $8 million a year.

He reiterated his position that Department of Corrections Director Howard Skolnik has authority to move staff and inmates at his discretion, and that Miller was trying to “curry favor” with labor groups.

“Miller is happy to sacrifice your safety and turn his back on taxpayers,” wrote Gibbons, who lost the Republican primary in June. “Ironically, he deceptively uses safety as an excuse to defend his stance.”

Miller and Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, both Democrats, outnumbered the Republican governor on the prison board when it voted July 13 to delay the fate of the medium-security prison, which houses 650 inmates and the state’s death chamber.

State lawmakers twice rejected Gibbons plan to shut the penitentiary down.

Skolnik told the board he could phase out Nevada State Prison without layoffs or requiring officers to move outside the Carson City area because vacant positions had been left open in anticipation of its closure.

He said he would immediately begin training programs for more officers because he could not continue to operate with reduced staff.

Parts of the prison date back to the 1860s, and Skolnik said some cells have no running water. Doors to those cells are left open so inmates can access bathroom facilities.

He said newer prison designs allow for better efficiency and that renovating the old prison could cost more than $30 million.