Escape sparks probe, temporary closure of prison camp

Jan. 27, 2010
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal

Escape sparks probe, temporary closure of prison camp

An investigation of a recent escape has triggered the surprise closure of a state prison camp in central Nevada.

Early this morning, state corrections officers removed all 113 minimum security prisoners from the Tonopah Conservation Camp and the entire staff was placed on paid administrative leave.

Howard Skolnik, director of the Nevada Department of Corrections, said the camp will remain closed while its 10 employees undergo a refresher course in the department’s “basic policies and procedures.”

Skolnik said the closure and staff training stems from an escape several weeks ago involving an inmate who was eventually recaptured.

The employees and inmates at the camp were given no prior notice of today’s closure because department administrators went there in search of “verification we would not have gotten had we said, ‘Here we come,’ ” Skolnik said.

He added that all of the camp’s employees have been “invited” to take part in the training set to begin Monday, meaning no one has been fired as a result of the probe so far.

For the time being, the inmates from Tonopah will be held at other camps around the state.

He declined to elaborate further because the investigation is ongoing.

Asked how long the training would go on, Skolnik said, “Until it’s done.”

“I’m hoping we get everything done and resolved within 30 days,” he said.

After that, the camp will reopen with the same inmates and staff members, Skolnik said.

The Tonopah Conservation Camp is about 10 miles outside the Nye County seat, on state Route 376 about 225 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

The camp, one of nine across Nevada, houses minimum security inmates who serve on work crews and help the Nevada Division of Forestry fight wildfires around the state.

The Tonopah camp has been targeted for permanent closure for budgetary reasons, but Skolnik stressed that the current situation is only temporary. Though this camp has had personnel issues in the past, it will reopen, he said.

“I don’t want people to panic, but I think people should be concerned. This is not the first time we have had problems in Tonopah,” Skolnik said. “I’m confident that while I’m director, it will be the last.”

Contact reporter Henry Brean at or 702-383-0350.

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