Prison work crews to expand

Prisons director Jackie Crawford and state Forester Steve Robinson told Nevada lawmakers Tuesday they are beginning a program that could expand prison work crews by nearly 2,000 inmates.

"The intent in our department is to put inmates to work," she told the Interim Finance Committee.

She said she plans to expand those eligible for work crews to include all those who would otherwise be eligible except that they have more than a year to go on their sentences.

The new rules would allow anyone with less than three years to serve to join outside work crews including fire crews.

"The only difference is time to release," Assistant Director of Operations Glen Whorton told the committee. "Everything else has to be the same."

Robinson told the committee there is plenty of work for those inmates to do, and their services are in demand.

Sen. Mark Amodei, R-Carson City, asked him to look as well at the rate the state is charging for inmate labor.

Robinson agreed, saying it has probably been $1 an hour for more than a decade.

Crawford said she plans to expand the honor camps and minimum security options in the prison system, which could save the state a lot of money.

She said it is one of the changes she is making to reduce the number of non-violent inmates taking up beds in the prison system.

"We're looking at all avenues to reducing hard beds," she said. "I have 1,936 inmates who are property and drug offenders who are within six months of release."

While it costs $38 a day to keep an inmate in a medium security prison, she said, the price to "house, educate and train people" is just $23 a day in an honor camp.

She promised to bring the committee specific recommendations at its next meeting.

In addition, she said the state is planning to shut down the two oldest operating units at the Nevada State Prison on Fifth Street.

Crawford said units No. 2 and No. 3 at "Old Max" will be closed if possible. She said they are the oldest parts of the prison still being used to house inmates. Built in 1925, they contain space for 36 close-custody inmates and 164 medium-security prisoners.

But Crawford told lawmakers because of their age and design, the units require 22 staff to manage.

"This is very inefficient," she said.

She said the prison system will move those 22 positions to other facilities, but will do so by attrition rather than forcing employees to move or leave their jobs.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, warned her to watch the need for those cells because the move would reduce the capacity of the prison by more than 25 percent.


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