Director of Corrections Howard Skolnik told the Board of Prison Commissioners on Tuesday he still has serious reservations about whether his department can take furloughs.
"If we furlough our staff, we will create an untenable and exceptionally unsafe situation," he said. "Frankly, I don't know how we're going to do it."
Skolnik said the solution is to give him added flexibility in moving staff and inmates around and assigning different shifts to his officers. He said that means a mix of eight, 10 and 12 hour shifts, depending on the institution and situation.
"We're looking at the reality of what is possible," he said. "We have the second lowest staff-to-inmate ratio in the U.S."
Both he and the correctional officer associations in Nevada have expressed concern over such measures as shutting down towers on a rotating basis and inmate lockdowns to reduce staffing needs. The former, they argue, would expose officers in the yard to danger. The latter, they say, increases inmate tensions, making the institution a more dangerous place for all.
He said he is still looking into changes he has the authority to make within the system to save money.
Skolnik has in the past urged closing down Nevada State Prison, saying that would save the state more than $12 million a year. But lawmakers have steadfastly refused to allow that.
He also told the commission consisting of the governor, attorney general and secretary of state that despite his best efforts, he is going to be about $3.5 million short in this year's budget.
He said while his department has traditionally averaged about $4 million a year in overtime, he has cut that to $1.3 million this year.
In addition, Skolnik said inmate revenues from prison industries and other sources are running short because of the economy, and he will see $1.15 million in red ink in the medical category, primarily because federal authorities cut them off on price breaks for HIV medicines. He said he will fix that problem by signing a contract with Renown Hospital making them again eligible for price reductions on the drugs.
But he said he will have to ask the Board of Examiners and lawmakers for some contingency fund money to cover the difference.