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August 29, 2014

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Door to clang shut on ancient state prison

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Cathleen Allison / Associated Press File

The execution chamber at Nevada State Prison in Carson City is rarely used, partly because many on death row die of natural causes before appeals are through.

CARSON CITY – The ancient Nevada State Prison, initially opened when Abraham Lincoln was president, is finally going to close.

The Senate Finance Committee and the Assembly Ways and Means Committee voted Saturday to phase out the Carson City facility by April 2012 at a savings of more than $17 million.

Most of the 682 inmates will be transferred to the High Desert State Prison in Clark County, along with 59 staff.

Gov Brian Sandoval proposed in his budget the closure by Oct. 31 this year, but the budget committees, on the recommendation of Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, delayed the phase out.

Horsford said more time was needed to plan the transfer and this would give the officers who are losing their jobs more time to find other employment. And those who are being transferred to High Desert will have more time to re-locate.

The prison, one of the oldest in the United States, was a hotel when purchased by the state in 1862. It burned in 1867 and was rebuilt.

There will be 105 positions eliminated by the closure. But Greg Cox, acting director of the state Department of Corrections, said some of those jobs have been kept vacant.

He said only about 30 officers would lose their jobs. Almost all the officers will retain their employment if they want to move to Las Vegas or other prisons.

Horsford, chairman of the Senate Finance, got assurance from Cox that there were no plans for building a new prison or for expanded facilities.

Assemblyman Tom Grady, R-Yerington, complained the former corrections director didn’t do any maintenance on the state prison. He said he would not support closure because so many people are affected.

The joint committees voted down the recommendation of Gov. Sandoval. And there was applause from prison employees in the audience.

But then Sandoval offered the plan to keep it open six months longer than the recommendation and that passed.

While the prison will be closed, the inmate license plate factory and the print shop/book bindery operation will be kept open with inmates housed at the nearby Stewart facility.

The state’s only execution chamber is located at the prison. The correctional department said it would open the chamber if an execution was necessary. The last execution was in April 2006.

Cox told the joint committees that the 712-bed state prison in Jean in Clark County, shut down some three years ago, remains closed. He said some other states and prison industry have looked at taking it over but they wanted a facility with 1,200 to 1,500 beds.

The committees also voted to shut down the 150-bed honor camp at Wells. Sandoval initially recommended its closure but then pumped more than $2 million to keep it open.

Inmates in the camp are used to battle range fires in northeast Nevada and they chop wood and clean snow on the sidewalks of senior citizens during the winter months.

The Wells camp will also be phased out, closing in June 2012.

The committees followed the recommendation of the governor to eliminate swing-shift differential pay for prison officers. These employees receive 5 percent extra if they work four hours between 6 p.m. and 7 a.m.

The committees, however, rejected the recommendations of the governor to eliminate extra pay for working in rural prisons in Lovelock and Ely and a mileage differential for working at Indian Springs which is 25 miles outside metropolitan Las Vegas.

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