Officers question savings of closing state prison | NevadaAppeal.com

Officers question savings of closing state prison

SANDRA CHEREB
Associated Press Writer

Correctional officers and others Wednesday questioned whether closing Nevada State Prison in Carson City would produce the projected $13 million in savings as claimed by Gov. Jim Gibbons.

Closing the 140-year-old prison was proposed by the governor but rejected by lawmakers during the 2009 Legislature. Gibbons again is pushing for its closure as a way to help meet an $881 million budget deficit.

Department of Corrections Director Howard Skolnik told the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee that closing the prison would mean laying off 136 personnel.

Critics argued that inmates would have to be transferred and then housed at other prisons, and those expenses would eat into any projected savings. Combined with the cost of laying off correctional officers and the impact to the local economy, they said savings would be minimal.

They also said while parts of the prison date to the 1800s, other sections are a century newer.

“It may be an antique but it is still a functional institution,” one officer testified.

Other proposals discussed include using money from the inmate welfare fund to cover half the cost of officers’ salaries for visitation posts; reducing uniform allowances; and charging inmates a one-time energy surcharge when they purchase electronic equipment.

Skolnik said his agency is also researching whether 5 percent rural pay differentials paid to officers at Ely State Prison and Lovelock Correctional Center can be eliminated. The bonus pay was used to attract officers to work at the remote locations, and eliminating them could expose the state to potential lawsuits, he said.

The agency estimated $24.7 million in total savings from all proposed cuts.

Members of the IFC are reviewing all budget cuts proposed by Gibbons, who has called for a Feb. 23 special session of the Legislature to deal with the state’s fiscal crisis.