About 70 inmates were released from the North Las Vegas jail this week after an unusually large number of corrections officers called in sick last weekend.
The nonviolent misdemeanor offenders were released from the jail after a judge signed an order, said Sgt. Tim Bedwell, a North Las Vegas police spokesman.
Bedwell said a wing of the jail had to be closed because there weren't enough officers.
He was unsure how many officers called in sick, but said the agency had to cover 49 total shifts on overtime on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
"We can't afford that from a monetary standpoint, and from a people standpoint we just couldn't cover it," he said. "The only reasonable solution we have is to close a wing."
The apparent "sick-out" happened a day after jailers learned there would be layoffs because of the city's budget crisis, he said.
Mike Yarter, president of the North Las Vegas Police Officers Association, which represents the jailers, said he didn't support their actions.
"I don't condone that," he said. "That's them as an individual acting out and deciding to do that."
Had he known ahead of time that the officers were going to call in, he would have tried to stop it, he said.
"We would definitely try to sway them away from doing this," he said. "It's silly."
Although there have been widespread rumors about the jail closing this summer and massive layoffs, Bedwell said there had been no final decision.
"There's no ink on anything," he said.
Yarter said that officials had been planning on closing a wing of the jail anyway.
The jail now has 140 inmates, down from a peak of up to 900 just a few years ago.
The facility has fallen victim to events beyond its control. No city in the country has been hit harder by the collapse in housing prices than North Las Vegas, which has seen a 37 percent drop in property tax revenues to the city and a 29 percent drop in consolidated tax revenue in three years.
And until two years ago, the facility was receiving about $19 million annually to house hundreds of people booked by the U.S. Marshals Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Those inmates are now largely housed in the Nevada Southern Detention Center in Pahrump, and North Las Vegas officials had to cut 44 workers and release some inmates early.
City officials now say that without concessions by police and firefighters, they will be forced to lay off so many that the city will become unsafe.
Bedwell said they can manage the current number of inmates.
"We can manage that population with the staff we know is going to show up to work," he said.