Lawmaker says aging prison may deserve reprieve
Associated Press Writer
Despite seeing some jerry-rigged arrangements while touring the Nevada State Prison, the Assembly Corrections, Parole and Probation Committee chairman said Thursday that it might be best to keep the old prison open until a budget crisis ends.
Assemblyman William Horne, D-Las Vegas, and other members of the panel toured the medium-security prison, which dates back to the 1870s, in advance of a committee hearing Tuesday to discuss various Department of Corrections issues.
Gov. Jim Gibbons has proposed shutting down the prison to save about $37 million during the next two fiscal years. Corrections Director Howard Skolnik has told lawmakers that the closure is warranted because the prison on the east side of Carson City is in bad shape and unsafe.
But Horne said that as he walked around NSP he was wondering whether it matched Skolnik’s description “and I didn’t get that sense.” He added it may be cheaper to keep the old prison going rather than continuing work on a $200 million-plus prison expansion project at Indian Springs, in Southern Nevada.
“That’s one of the policy questions we have to answer,” Horne said. “Is it more fiscally responsible to close this and spend a lot of money on a new one, or make do with this one during the fiscal crisis?”
The NSP shutdown plan has been questioned by prison guard representatives who said shutting down the prison would be a costly mistake that would mean job losses or difficult relocations to other prisons for employees, and that would hurt Carson City’s economy.
The correctional officers also argued that NSP has gone through many upgrades over the years and is safe and secure despite its age.
Skolnik has noted said the money for the Indian Springs prison comes from bond revenues while the savings from the NSP closure would preserve state General Fund dollars. His budget plan also calls for closure of a prison camp in Tonopah.
Horne, whose committee also toured the state’s Warm Springs prison next to NSP, said the panel probably will file a report on its findings with the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, now studying Gibbons’ proposed $481 million budget for the entire prison system.
In their review of the prison budget, lawmakers also have asked for more details on plans to lease a prison in Jean, in Southern Nevada, to federal immigration officials and then eventually convert it into a women’s prison.