Lawmakers were told Tuesday the Nevada Department of Corrections badly needs the 100 additional correctional officers the governor has proposed adding to ensure adequate staffing at Nevada’s prisons.
Director Greg Cox told the combined Assembly Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees unlike most other state agencies prisons can’t just shut down a staff post if someone is on vacation, sick or off duty.
“This has nothing to do with the prison population,” Cox said. “This has to do with what our staff needs to operate.”
He said the recommendation to add 100 officers came from an interim study by eight corrections professionals from around the country plus a couple of Nevadans with extensive knowledge of corrections, including former director Bob Bayer.
But Cox said after the hearing that study actually recommended adding nearly 500 officers to the system. He said the 100 would give his department enough staff to ensure the system remains safe and secure.
Deputy Director E.K. McDaniel told the panel the “relief factor” that sets staffing hasn’t been updated since 1979. He said since then, two more state holidays have been added and laws like the Family Medical Leave Act have been passed increasing the burden on staffing issues.
The department isn’t asking for 500 more officers.
“We’re asking to do this in increments,” McDaniel said.
He and Cox said the problem is when staffing is inadequate, existing posts actually do have to be shut down, creating potential problems in the different prisons.
The added staff would cost the state $1.8 million to add 45 employees in 2016 and a total of more than $5.7 million in 2017 to hire another 55, a total of about $7.6 million over the biennium.
The proposed corrections budget also includes more than $800,000 to build an execution chamber at Ely State Prison. The old death chamber, Cox said, is still operable in Carson City but it makes much more sense to have the chamber in Ely where Nevada’s death row inmates are actually housed. Since Nevada State Prison was shut down, handling inmates facing death sentence has become even more of a problem at the Carson City prison.
Nearly 90 percent of the more than $360 million in the corrections budget is state General Fund money.