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Unneeded facility to be built anyway

CARSON CITY — The state will construct a 100-bed transition center at the Florence McClure Women’s Correctional Center in North Las Vegas even though the prison director told legislators Thursday it was not needed.

Corrections Director Howard Skolnik asked members of the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee to delete the transition center and save the state $4.8 million. But Assembly Democrats on the committee objected to his proposal, part of Gov. Jim Gibbons’ plan to cut state spending by more than $540 million.

Because they could not agree with Republican senators on the committee, construction will begin.

The transition housing unit is part of a $40 million project approved by the 2007 Legislature that will add 400 beds to the women’s prison.

A transition center is a minimum security facility where nonviolent inmates receive assistance while holding jobs in the community prior to their re-entry into society.

State Public Works Manager Gus Nunez said he needed a decision from the committee since the contractor has completed site work and wants to pour concrete for the foundation of the prison expansion.

“We are here to ask you to delete it because it is not needed,” Nunez said. “I have to tell the contractor to build it or not to build it.”

Democrats did not see it his way. “I cannot imagine we will never need those beds,” responded Assemblywoman Kathy McClain, D-Las Vegas.

Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, questioned how the number of inmates who would need a transition center could change so dramatically.

She said the Corrections Department told legislators nine months ago that 339 female inmates qualified for a transitional center.

Skolnik acknowledged as much. But he said Thursday that the female prison population has “hardened” and that new studies show just 21 of the 1,100 female inmates in the state could be sent to a transition center. At the same time, he said, there are 150 openings available for both men and women inmates at the Casa Grande Transition Center in Las Vegas.

Chairman Morse Arberry, D-Las Vegas, twice tried in vain to get Democrats and Republicans to agree on Nunez’s plan. He held up action until the end of the seven-hour meeting, but the two sides never could agree. Under committee rules, a majority of Senate and Assembly members had to agree to stop construction.

“It doesn’t make sense to add beds if they are not needed,” said Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno. “Things change. We aren’t the experts.”

“To squander money like that is criminal,” Sen. Bob Beers said after the meeting.

Beers, R-Las Vegas, said he was not sure whether the Democrats’ real motive was to vent anger toward Gibbons’ budget-cutting plan. “We have plenty of beds and now we are building more?” Beers said.

Contact reporter Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or (775) 687-3901.

 

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