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COMMENTARY: Private prisons can help serve Nevada

Updated April 28, 2019 - 12:06 am

In 2017, prisons in Nevada were significantly overcrowded and the state needed a solution. The Nevada Department of Corrections reached a point where no cells were available for any new inmates, forcing the department to put more than 100 portable beds in day rooms.

Compounding the problem, NDOC needed to close part of an aging state prison for renovation, displacing more inmates. At the same time, NDOC was facing (and continues to face) ongoing challenges hiring and retaining staff. This required overtime and employment of out-of-state workers, which inevitably increases operational costs. These challenges can put staff, inmates and public safety at risk and limited programming is available to help inmates prepare to successfully rejoin their communities.

To address this challenge, NDOC officials examined various options. They considered using local jails but determined they weren’t able to provide re-entry programming or the higher-level security needed for many inmates. They also considered using an interstate compact to house inmates in other state prisons, but determined that the Interstate Corrections Compact wouldn’t be viable.

When CoreCivic — which provides private corrections and detention services — started working with Nevada two years ago, bipartisan legislation was passed that allowed for a small, higher-risk group of inmates to be moved to our state-of-the-art facility in Arizona. The legislation prioritized placing inmates in our care who were not Nevada residents and who had a history of violence. After unanimous approval from the Board of State Prison Commissioners and the State Board of Examiners, a contract that detailed the state’s requirements and expectations was signed, and the partnership began.

The partnership has been a success.

NDOC has publicly stated that the higher-risk inmates in CoreCivic’s care are receiving re-entry programming opportunities and medical care that may not have been available to them in-state. Inmates are earning GEDs and vocational certificates, and they are enrolled in programs designed specifically to help them avoid the cycle of recidivism when they’re released.

Most importantly, overall safety has been improved. NDOC has stated that the separation of this small group of higher-risk inmates has led to a safer Nevada system for correctional staff and inmates by reducing violence and gang activity.

Our Arizona facility is closer to Las Vegas than many of the Nevada state correctional facilities, and CoreCivic allows for extended visits from inmates’ families and friends. We’ve also built a video visitation center that can be used by the loved ones of inmates in the Las Vegas area.

However, despite the seriousness of the challenges we were brought in to help address, and the small group of Nevada inmates we care for (about 1 percent), critics of our industry continue to sacrifice the truth in an effort to push legislation that would eliminate solutions like ours. Assembly Bill 183 would prohibit us from offering the services we currently provide to Nevada.

Some critics claim that costs for the 200 Nevada inmates in our care are higher than the average cost for NDOC inmates. They are comparing apples to oranges. We care for higher-custody inmates, who by nature require greater levels of staffing and security.

Additionally, some critics have questioned our transparency and accountability. However, NDOC regularly audits our operations and reports on the partnership directly to the Legislature and committees whose membership includes the governor, attorney general and secretary of state. Beyond the state’s auditing process, CoreCivic conducts its own internal audits, and the company is regularly audited by national, independent groups such as the American Correctional Association (ACA), which certify standards within prisons. Our facility that houses Nevada inmates received a 100 percent on its most recent ACA audit.

As it currently stands, if NDOC officials no longer need the solutions we provide, they can simply stop working with us. The use of our services requires approval from many elected and regulatory committees. If the Legislature passes Assembly Bill 183, the next time the state’s corrections system faces serious challenges, there will be one less trusted option to turn to when they need it most.

Amanda Gilchrist is director of public affairs for CoreCivic, based in Nashville.

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