New acting Nevada prison boss says OK to furloughs

Nevada's new prison boss broke with his predecessor Tuesday, telling a state board that correctional officers can comply with once-a-month furloughs like other state workers without jeopardizing inmate or employee safety.

Greg Cox told the state Board of Examiners that the agency will implement furloughs beginning in February.

Former Department of Corrections Director Howard Skolnik, who retired at the start of the year, had consistently sought - and for the most part was granted - an exemption for correctional officers from furloughs imposed on other state workers since 2009.

Gov. Brian Sandoval named Cox acting director of the agency in late December. Cox was previously deputy director under Skolnik.

Last year Skolnik said furloughs could be imposed if the aging Nevada State Prison in Carson City were closed and inmates sent to more modern institutions, a move backed by then Gov. Jim Gibbons. The three-member state prison board, however, rejected the idea, saying the issue should be considered by lawmakers in 2011.

The Board of Examiners on Tuesday was to consider another three-month exemption for correctional officers through March that would have cost $938,000.

But Cox told the board that correctional officers were furloughed for four months last summer.

"I believe that we can do it safely and securely," Cox told the panel. "The data suggests we did it successfully for four months."

The board, comprised of Sandoval, Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Secretary of State Ross Miller, voted to grant the exemption for January at a cost of around $312,690.

Speaking to reporters afterward, Cox said requiring front-line correctional officers to take one day off a month without pay adds about $60,000 a month in overtime costs for other officers to cover those shifts. But he estimated the overall monthly savings to the state at $250,000 to $300,000.

Cox was noncommittal on whether he supports closing the Carson City prison, parts of which date to the 1860s and which also houses the state's death chamber. He said the issue should be decided by lawmakers, who convene Feb. 7.


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