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November 22, 2014

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state budget:

Lawmakers weigh possible changes in prison construction

CARSON CITY – The construction plans for state prisons in Southern Nevada don’t make sense to some legislators.

“It makes little sense to cut education and build more prisons,” said Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley during hearings on the budget of the state Public Works Board.

Buckley, D-Las Vegas, asked for information about how much the state would save if it scrapped all construction plans for the coming two years.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said a better strategy is needed to justify the construction of these prisons.

Gus Nunez, manager of the Public Works Board, said the plan calls for moving women from their prison in North Las Vegas to the state prison at Jean. The North Las Vegas prison would house elderly inmates, which are growing in number.

That switch would allow the state to delay for four years the design of a new prison for women at Indian Springs.

Before the move, the prison at Jean would be leased to the federal Immigration and Custom Enforcement Agency. Howard Skolnik, director of the state Department of Corrections, said negotiations are under way with the federal government to house its inmates.

Lawmakers questioned spending $3.9 million for advance planning at expansion of the Jean prison if the state was going to lease the prison to a federal agency.

Nunez, under questioning by members of the Senate Finance Committee and the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, said it builds its prison construction program on the estimates of inmates.

In the budget this time is the $221 million construction of a new male prison at Indian Springs. The project calls for three dormitories in the first phase each to have 168 cells. There would be an execution chamber and a regional medical facility.

If approved, it would be ready in July 2011.

Nunez said the project “is shovel ready” if the federal stimulus funds become available.

Buckley questioned the wisdom of building another prison when Gov. Jim Gibbons wants to close the century-old Nevada State Prison in Carson City. She said sections of the Carson City prison were “well functioning.”

Assemblyman Tom Grady, R-Yerington, said a lot of money has been spent on upgrading the Carson City prison. He asked for information on the amount of money spent in recent years.

Grady was also unhappy that the Silver Springs Conservation Camp in Northern Nevada was closed and is being mothballed. Skolnik said no money is being spent for the upkeep of Silver Springs.

There is a deed restriction, Skolnik said, to restrict the camp to females. “We are unable to use it.”

Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, said the Legislature should give consideration to reduce the sentences for inmates who committed minor crimes.

He said “several hundred people might not be there” if the lighter sentences had been imposed.

Gibbons has recommended a $582.7 million building program for the next two years, with $404.4 million coming from the state, mostly in bonding money, and $178.5 million from other funds.

The major projects include a $36.1 million readiness center for the Army National Guard in North Las Vegas and a $24.5 million field maintenance shop facility in Las Vegas, also for the Army National Guard.

Cy Ryan may be reached at (775) 687 5032 or [email protected].

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