Prison officer furlough exemptions extended

CARSON CITY - Nevada correctional officers and other essential prison staff won a reprieve Tuesday from furloughs mandated by the Legislature for state workers.

The state Board of Examiners extended an exemption for prison guards through the 2010 fiscal year that ends June 30.

Department of Corrections Director Howard Skolnik said the exemption will cost $3.8 million, $1.2 million of which has already been spent since July 1. That will eat up the $4 million state lawmakers set aside for public safety furlough exemptions for the rest of the period ending June 30, 2011.

Skolnik said his agency plans to offset some of the expense by charging rent for prison stores and gymnasiums.

The 2009 Legislature mandated state workers take one unpaid day off a month during the two-year budget cycle in an effort to save about $330 million. The furloughs amount to about a 4.6 percent pay cut.

Skolnik said the mandate would further stress his understaffed agency, putting personnel and inmates at risk.

"The staff recognizes that if we take furloughs, we increase the likelihood of their injury or death," Skolnik told reporters after the meeting.

In recent months, the Board of Examiners - comprised of Gov. Jim Gibbons, Secretary of State Ross Miller and Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto - asked Skolnik to come up with alternatives to furloughs by cutting spending in other areas.

Skolnik said many options were considered, such as closing one housing unit at Nevada State Prison in Carson City, but most were deemed unacceptable for safety reasons.

He said the department is negotiating with a private company to lease the closed Southern Nevada Correctional Center in Jean, which could bring in $2.5 million and help pay to continue the prison furlough exemption through the 2011 fiscal year.


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