Tonopah prison camp shut down |

Tonopah prison camp shut down

In the wake of a recent escape, the Tonopah Conservation Camp was shut down Wednesday morning, and the inmates transferred to other camps, while the staff started intensive training.

“We had an escape out of there two or three weeks ago,” Director of Corrections Howard Skolnik said Wednesday. “The inmate has been apprehended, but during the course of the investigation, it became clear we needed to do some additional training of our staff.”

He said because of tight staffing levels, the only way to accomplish that is to shut the minimum-security prison camp and move the inmates out for a couple of weeks.

Skolnik said the investigation “did identify some systemic problems” that he said will be corrected by training for the eight to 10 prison employees.

Buses divided the 113 inmates between the Ely, Pioche and Three Lake Valley conservation camps until training is completed. After that, they will be returned to Tonopah, about 225 miles southeast of Carson City.

The staff was taken to Casa Grande center in Las Vegas for the training exercises.

The closure raised concerns among area residents who were worried the move was a permanent closure.

Closing the Tonopah camp was one of Skolnik’s options for saving money during the 2009 Legislature.

But Nye County and Tonopah officials as well as the Nevada Division of Forestry urged lawmakers not to shut the camp.

They pointed to the community work inmates perform, including clearing brush, picking up trash and shoveling snow from elderly residents’ walkways.

But the most important service they provide, lawmakers were told, is firefighting duties when wildfires break out in central Nevada. NDF officials said without the inmate crews, it might be several hours before crews could reach a fire in that area.

The Legislature ordered Skolnik to keep the camp in operation to provide those services.