Proposed closing of prison disputed

CARSON CITY — A move to close the old Nevada State Prison was questioned Monday by state lawmakers, who demanded more details and said the proposed shutdown might not produce the Gibbons administration’s estimate of a $37 million budget savings.

Corrections Director Howard Skolnik told legislators reviewing his $481 million, two-year state general fund budget plan that the medium-security prison, dating to the 1870s, warrants closure because it’s in bad shape and “isn’t a safe institution.”

But Assemblywoman Kathy McClain, D-Las Vegas, said the idea of closing the prison in Carson City and continuing work on a $200 million-plus prison project at Indian Springs in Southern Nevada seems “just kind of ridiculous.”

Skolnik said the money for the Indian Springs prison comes from bond revenues while the savings from the Nevada State Prison closure would preserve state general fund dollars. His budget plan also calls for closure of a prison camp in Tonopah.

McClain also questioned whether the prison closure would save as much as Skolnik said it would. She said legislators have “kind of spun our wheels with the Department of Corrections for a number of years” and “a more intelligent approach” is needed in the 2009 session.

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said he wanted many more details on the prison budget. He said it seemed like lawmakers were not getting direct answers about the plan.

Horsford also said he wants more details on plans to lease a prison in Jean to federal immigration officials and then eventually convert it into a women’s prison.

Gov. Jim Gibbons chairs the state Prison Board, which voted recently to delay the Nevada State Prison closure pending a legislative review. Gibbons voted against the delay, which was endorsed by the other board members, Secretary of State Ross Miller and Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto.

The board acted after hearing from several prison guards and their representatives, who said shutting down the prison would be a costly mistake that would mean job losses or difficult relocations to other prisons for employees, and would hurt Carson City’s economy.

The guards also complained that they weren’t getting enough information from Skolnik or other superiors about plans for the prison.

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