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Proposal to close state prison meets opposition

Updated Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2010 | 12:20 p.m.

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Gov. Jim Gibbons’ plan to close the Nevada State Prison, one of the oldest in the nation, is meeting with skepticism from some legislators.

Howard Skolnik, director of the state Department of Corrections, says that 660 of the 741 inmates at the Carson City prison would be shipped to the High Desert State Prison in Clark County. The rest would be transferred to Lovelock, Ely and the Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City.

Skolnik said there were 167 potential layoffs of prison staff. Half of the $24.7 million savings in the corrections department would come from shutting the prison, which was started in 1862.

But Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said she didn't support closing the prison. She suggested it may cost the state more in the future than the immediate gain.

She called “haphazard” the suggestions of switching shifts and other savings planned for the prison.

Assemblywoman Kathy McClain, D-Las Vegas, said there were new parts of the prison that could continue to be used.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, directed Skolnik to provide additional information to justify the proposed closure.

Skolnik said the inmates being transferred to High Desert could be housed in the two vacant units. But lawmakers reminded Skolnik that the 2009 Legislature approved $7.9 million in bonding to convert one of those dormitories into a 116-bed regional medical unit to avoid any questions by the federal government about how the state takes care of its inmates.

The construction was never started.

Skolnik said the state is now meeting its constitutional requirements for medical care.

The plan submitted to the special session of the Legislature that opened today calls for 54 of the 210 staff at the Nevada State Prison to be shifted to High Desert. There would be one person left at the Carson City prison for maintenance.

Senior staff at the Nevada State Prison would be able to bump less senior employees at other prisons or camps. Meetings are being held today for employees to brief them on what is planned.

Gibbons proposed the closure to the 2009 Legislature, which rejected it.

In 1862, the Nevada Legislature purchased the Warm Springs Hotel and 20 acres for $80,000 and converted it into a prison in Carson City.

The governor is also suggesting closure of the Casa Grande Transitional Center in Clark County, where inmates getting ready to be released are housed.

Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, said he “can’t reconcile” the shutdown of Casa Grande, where inmates work on the outside and earn money. They pay their victims, Coffin said.

Skolnik also told the Legislative Interim Finance Committee on Monday that the Tonopah Conservation Camp would be reopened March 1. It was temporarily closed after an inmate walked away.

Skolnik ordered all the staff to go for special training. And in the meantime, the inmates were transferred to other prison facilities.

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