|Nevada prison, work camp to close|
CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Nevada lawmakers voted Saturday to close the state's oldest, most symbolic prison next spring, a decision that has been debated for years and promises to alter the community that has housed it since the mid-1800s.
A joint Senate and Assembly money committee decided to close the Nevada State Prison in Carson City by April 2012, a surprise for corrections staffers who expected to shutter the historical site in October 2011.
“It's the battleship of our department,” said Department of Corrections Acting Director Greg Cox. “It's been an institution since its formation.”
The cost-cutting decision comes as inmate populations decline and the aging prison's design becomes antiquated.
Nevada State Prison holds 682 inmates, most of whom would be transferred to High Desert State Prison in Clark County. More than 100 employee positions would be eliminated, and almost 100 would be transferred to other prisons.
“It creates a big disruption for families,” said Assemblyman Tom Grady, R-Yerington, who voted against the closure because it would further hurt the community's economy. “It's difficult to pick up and move.”
Gov. Brian Sandoval's plan to closing the prison by October would have saved the state $17.3 million over the next two years.
Delaying the closure another six months means an estimated $7.5 million will be needed to keep the facility operating, but prison employees will have more time to find another position and may see more jobs open in northern Nevada as other workers retire.
Nevada State Prison houses the state's only execution chamber, and parts of the building date to the 1860s. Cox said the chamber might need to be temporarily reopened for executions, although the department will eventually build a new room.
The committee also voted to close the minimum-security Wells Conservation Camp by April 2012, which goes against the governor's recommendation to keep it going for another biennium.
Cox said residents in the northeastern Nevada community of Wells depend on inmate labor to fight fires and perform other manual tasks. The camp was opened in 1985 and accommodates 150 inmates who would be transferred to other sites in the state.
Closing the camp in summer 2011 would have saved about $2 million in the next two years; corrections staff have not determined how much the state will save with the later closure.
Democrats have criticized the Corrections Department budget because the governor has recommended using general funds to compensate for dried-up federal stimulus funding, while schools are feeling more of a jolt from the expiring stimulus money.
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