Legislature told cost of exempting prisons from furloughs

Facing huge costs of exempting prison workers from furloughs, one legislative leader Thursday told Director of Corrections Howard Skolnik to get creative - including opening the door to potential closure of housing units.

Skolnik and Director of Administration Andrew Clinger told the Interim Finance Committee the Board of Examiners has approved exempting correctional officers and other key employees from the day-a-month furloughs required of most state workers through the end of this month. Skolnik has recommended making exemptions for those 1,923 employees permanent this biennium.

But doing so would cost the state an estimated $7.6 million more than budgeted for the prison system. That total is nearly double what lawmakers set aside to cover the cost of necessary exemptions for all state workers, and several other departments have already made the case that some of their workers are critical to public safety and can't be furloughed.

"The contingency fund only provides for $4 million," said Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, asking what other economies Skolnik could come up with.

"We have very little left to give up," Skolnik said, adding that furloughs or further staff reductions would potentially endanger not only inmates but his staff.

He said he is experimenting with elimination of overtime, which could generate several million in savings, but doesn't yet know if that is possible.

Horsford asked whether Skolnik had considered closing units in some prisons to consolidate inmates and cut staffing needs.

"I was told by the Legislature not to close units without their permission," said Skolnik reminding Horsford of the opposition raised when he recommended shutting down Nevada State Prison in Carson City to save some $20 million a year.

"We cannot absorb these costs this biennium," said Horsford.

He urged Skolnik to look into all possibilities to reduce costs further, indicating that unit closures may have to be considered.

Skolnik said afterward he will look at what savings can be generated by consolidating inmates and shutting down units within different prisons. He also indicated he has a couple of other ideas but declined to be specific.

The Board of Examiners consisting of the governor, secretary of state and attorney general, will hold a special meeting at the end of this month to decide whether to recommend making those exemptions permanent. If they do, it would be up to IFC to decide whether they want to take the extra money needed out of the state's contingency fund.

That fund currently has more than $15 million in it but has numerous other expenditures to cover over the next 20 months.


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