Nevada State Prison Closure To Wait For More Information, July Prison Board Meeting

CARSON CITY – A plan to close Nevada State Prison in phases over the next several months will be on hold for further consideration by the Board of Prison Commissioners next month, but Gov. Jim Gibbons said today that he will continue to authorize transfers of inmates for safety and security reasons.

Gibbons last week announced his plan to close the facility in the capital in phases over the next six to eight months.

But Secretary of State Ross Miller, a member of the prison board, asked for a meeting on the issue. During an hour-long discussion today on the planned closure, Miller said it is clear the board, not Gibbons, has the authority to decide if the aging facility should be mothballed.

The board voted 2-1, with Gibbons opposed, to halt any efforts aimed at closing the facility until the board meets again on July 13.

Miller called Gibbons a “lone wolf” on the prison closure issue, saying the Legislature has twice rejected the idea in bipartisan votes.

Gibbons said his staff is continuing to research whether he has the legal authority to unilaterally move forward with the closure. While there were emotional arguments made at the meeting against shutting the facility down, the safety of officers and residents of the capital come first, he said.

Furloughs mandated by the Legislature for corrections employees that will begin July 1 could potentially affect the facility from a safety standpoint, Gibbons said.

The closure is expected to come up at a meeting Thursday of the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee.

In announcing the closure last week, Gibbons said it costs taxpayers an extra $4,000 to $6,000 per inmate for prisoners at NSP because the facility is so old and poorly designed. He also said it is not as safe as some other facilities.

More than 650 inmates were being held at NSP but recently three housing units have been closed and about 200 inmates transferred to other institutions.

Corrections Department Director Howard Skolnik said the more than 200 positions at the facility, mostly correctional officers, can be accommodated at other facilities in Northern Nevada without the need for layoffs.

He said the phase out of the facility can wait until the July 13 meeting.

Miller and the third member of the board, Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, said they made it clear to Skolnik in January 2008 that they wanted the board to have a say in major policy decisions involving his department. Miller said Gibbons tried an “end run” around the board anyway.

The board, the community, corrections officers and others should have the chance to weigh in on such a proposal, Masto said.

Miller said the board may ultimately agree with the plan to close the  prison, but more information is needed to make an informed decision.

Steven Houk, a correctional officer at the prison, spoke at the meeting and said the closure was a “last-ditch” power grab by Gibbons.

Gibbons lost his re-election bid in the June primary to GOP opponent Brian Sandoval and will leave office in early January.

audio clips:

Gibbons says security issues outweigh other factors in prison closure:

062310Gibbons1 :17 in the community.”

Gibbons says closure will proceed if security is an issue:

062310Gibbons2 :21 the appropriate action.”