Faced with ever-deepening budget woes, North Las Vegas plans to cut its jail to just 400 beds, less than half of the 900-bed operation of a few years ago.
It's a casualty of the economic realities facing Southern Nevada, but local judges worry the smaller jail means less room for the criminals they need to lock up.
"There are bad people we have to lock up," Municipal Court Judge Warren VanLandschoot said Wednesday. "There's a misconception that the Municipal Court just handles traffic tickets. But we get guys with 150 prior arrests. We're able to keep that person off the street for five months. That's a whole bunch of crime that's not happening."
At its May 17 meeting, the City Council voted 4-1 to close all but one of the jail's dormitories and end a contract that guarantees up to 200 beds for federal prisoners. Even without the federal prisoners, which account for about 50 inmates a day, the city would be left with 200 beds for men and 200 beds for women.
At the meeting, Municipal Court Judge Sean Hoeffgen said leaving only one dorm open would be "cutting to the bone of public safety."
"There will be no beds for us if this plan goes forward," he said. "We won't have teeth."
If criminals "get wind that we don't have the facilities to keep them locked up, they're just going to keep doing business, and more so," North Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Natalie Tyrrell told the council. "Crime rates will rise. It's not a question of if, but, rather, when."
Hoeffgen implored the council to find room in the cash-strapped city's budget to keep at least two dorms open.
The council directed city staff to scour the city's budget in search of the $1.5 million necessary to fund a second, smaller dorm that now houses inmates in segregation.
Making sense of the number of beds and how many inmates they can hold can be a complicated exercise because not every jail bed can be filled.
At its peak, the jail had 900 beds spread among five buildings on its campus next to City Hall. Half of those were reserved under a federal contract for inmates of the U.S. Marshals Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
But when a new lockup for federal inmates opened in Pahrump in October, the North Las Vegas Detention Center lost about a third of its inmates and $19 million it was getting to house them.
In the wake of that move, the Police Department cut 44 jail workers, reduced jail capacity and released some inmates early.
Between October and February, 362 inmates were released early, North Las Vegas police Sgt. Tim Bedwell said. Previously, the jail rarely let anyone go early because it had the space to house more inmates, he said.
The jail's remaining three buildings housed about 325 inmates on a recent weekday. Most of them, about 200, were in the largest building, called C Dorm. About 50 were in booking, and about 25 were in isolated cells in a high-security building known as MCC.
The roughly 50 women were in another building called F Dorm, which is being staffed using overtime because of the recent job cuts.
Under the Police Department's new plan, F Dorm would close, and its female inmates would move into one wing of C Dorm, a building with two wings of 200 beds each. Because men and women prisoners must be separated, the 50 or so women would essentially take up all the beds on their wing, leaving about 150 empty beds.
The male wing would also have empty beds thanks to the 25 or so inmates in segregation for disciplinary or safety reasons. Each of those inmates is kept in a cell by themselves, so each one in C Dorm would take all four beds in their cell. So those 25 inmates would occupy 100 beds, leaving just another 100 beds for the rest of the male inmates.
That scenario would change if the city finds the $1.5 million necessary to keep open MCC, the dorm that now houses those high-security inmates.
That scenario would be a luxury, and the Police Department is prepared to make do without MCC until the financial picture improves, Bedwell said.
"It's going to come down to ... do we have that extra $1.5 million," he said.