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November 27, 2014

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Wild horses boost prison industries’ bottom line

Thanks to wild horses, the inmate industry program in the state prison system has made a major turnaround.

The state Department of Corrections reported Friday that its net income for the prisons industry program is $490,707 for the first nine months of this year, compared with a loss of $165,883 in the similar period of 2012.

Corrections officials told the Legislative Committee on Industrial Programs that more than 1,000 wild horses captured by the Bureau of Land Management are being held at an interim facility operated by inmates.

The horses are held until a permanent home can be found for them and this income accounts for 71 percent of the prison ranch operation in Northern Nevada. The number of horses under the care of the prison has doubled.

Corrections Director Greg Cox and Deputy Director Brian Connett briefed the committee on the industrial programs that now have 495 inmates working.

As reported last week, the department has a default judgment of $428,000 against Alpine Steel in Las Vegas for using prison labor and facilities without making its agreed-upon repayment.

Connett said the company agreed to make a "balloon" payment of $20,000 by the end of June but failed to come up with the money. He said the case has been turned over to the state controller's office to collect.

Inmates have been paid for their work, but Alpine owes $145,202 for officer reimbursements, $115,000 in rent and sums for other services. Cox said the equipment of Alpine has been locked up until the firm makes the payment.

Assemblyman Mike Sprinkle, D-Sparks, said the Legislature was told that the prison industries program would increase by 18 percent, but the new figures show it’s up by 30 to 40 percent. He called the turnaround remarkable.

Cox told the committee the prison is thinking of increasing the acreage to accommodate 200 more horses from the BLM. But he said the horses consume 20 to 30 gallons of water a day so the increased space must be able to handle that.

Officials said the prison is working with UNR and others on a program testing a fertility drug for the horses so they don't produce offspring.

"Some drugs are somewhat successful. Some are not," Cox said.

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