Prison Industries board backs reality TV plan for prison

Photo submitted The first custom chopper made by Big House Choppers, a group of Nevada prison inmates, was recently on display in Las Vegas.

Photo submitted The first custom chopper made by Big House Choppers, a group of Nevada prison inmates, was recently on display in Las Vegas.

A reality TV series set in the Southern Desert Correctional Center's auto restoration shop, was given the nod Thursday by the legislative committee on prison industries.

R.C. Entertainment, a group of Studio City producers, has already received a positive reaction to the idea from Court TV which has requested a budget for what Prison Industries Director Howard Skolnik said he hopes will become a weekly series similar to Discovery Channel's 'Monster Garage'.

The committee headed by Assemblyman John Marvel, R-Battle Mountain, also gave Skolnik permission to go ahead with plans to create custom motorcycles at the shop.

The prototype bike, a "chopper" built completely at the auto shop, received several offers from potential buyers when they put it on display, he said.

The offers, he said, were all "substantially in excess of what we have in it."

Skolnik said the bikes will be marketed as made by "Bighouse Choppers" and bear the slogan "Built with Convictions."

Inmates named the first prototype "The Shank," the term for a homemade prison knife.

"We think this will actually be a really big money-maker for us," he told the committee.

The TV show, he said, will have several benefits - most importantly, showing the inmates as productive and talented workers. Skolnik said it will also help advertise the auto shop for potential customers.

"And they are willing to pay prison industries and willing to pay the inmates," he said.

Marvel described the project as a very creative idea that could bring substantial financial rewards to Prison Industries programs.

The auto shop has been doing restoration work on classic cars for private owners for several years and Skolnik said the quality of the work has built a substantial business. He said the roughly 30 inmates working there try to complete each project in about two weeks.

One inmate working in the program said quality work takes time. And, as he put it: "We take our time. We've got plenty of time."

Whether the TV show becomes a reality depends on whether producers can complete a deal with Court TV or another network.

In addition, the committee authorized Skolnik to try to work out a contract with Credit Sovereign Group, which wants to build a plant creating high-tech concrete-like building panels using prison workers.

The product is described as five times lighter in weight and three or more times stronger than concrete. It is competitive in price with concrete and other molded-wall-panel products. Skolnik said if a deal can be reached, the company will eventually employ up to 120 inmates.

-- Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at or 687-8750.


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