Rarely has wise penology been a determining factor in siting a prison…

The Reno News & Review has more information about what the ACLU thinks of the recommendation that the rural prisons should be packed up and moved to urban areas:

Nevada prison blues
A state commission proposes shifting prisons from rural to urban areas

By Dennis Myers
dennism@newsreview.com

This article was published on 01.21.10.

Siting this medium security facility in Lovelock, which has limited housing, has meant some prison workers have commuted from Reno, 250 miles away.
PHOTO COURTESY HUMBOLDT SUN

The Spending and Government Efficiency Commission recommendations can be read at www.sagenevada.org.

In 1979 after Assemblymember Peggy Cavnar of Clark County had put out one too many news releases attacking her colleagues—something she seemed to do incessantly—they found a way to deal with her: They put a new prison in her legislative district, at Indian Springs. The alarmed residents of her district went crazy, giving her something new to think about. Though she fought the siting, the prison was built.

That kind of prison site selection is common in Nevada. When the state’s new maximum prison was put in Ely, it was economic development—one of three projects authorized by the Nevada Legislature to beef up the town’s economy after the shutdown of the Kennecott copper mining operation in the county. Economic development was also the reason for construction of a prison in Lovelock, which Assemblymember Bernie Anderson said was the only Nevada community that lost population in the 1990 census.

Rarely has wise penology been a determining factor in siting a prison.

On Jan. 7, the state Spending and Government Efficiency Commission issued a recommendation that two of those rural prison locations—Ely and Lovelock—be called failures and that the state get rid of the properties in favor of urban locations.

The recommendation reads, “Explore the possibility of an exchange of Ely State Prison and Lovelock Correctional Center to companies that specialize in private corrections in return for construction of similar facilities located within existing large population centers to be determined by the Board of Prison Commissioners.”

In releasing the package of recommendations, of which the prison proposal was a part, commission chair Bruce James, a former GOP candidate for the U.S. Senate, called on state legislators to “set aside their partisan differences to put the public’s interest first.”

In December 2007, after families of inmates began organizing to agitate for better conditions at the Ely prison, physician William Noel was retained by the American Civil Liberties Union to inspect the facility. He wrote a report saying that at the prison he encountered “the most shocking and callous disregard for human life and human suffering that I have ever encountered in the medical profession in my 35 years of practice. … The pervasive disregard for human suffering and the shocking medical malpractice revealed in the 35 case files I reviewed is almost unbelievable.” Nevada prisons director Howard Skolnik belittled Noel’s qualifications in corrections and said he opposed a settlement with the ACLU.

After the Nevada Prison Commission—made up of the governor, attorney general and secretary of state—rebuffed an ACLU proposal for improved health care at the prison, the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada and the national ACLU’s Prison Project filed a class-action lawsuit against the state on March 5, 2008. It charged the state with failing to correct insufficient health care. The lawsuit claimed that the prison lacked “the most basic elements of an adequate prison health care system and deprives prisoners of the minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities.” On March 21, 2009, federal judge Larry Hicks—a former Washoe County district attorney—certified the class action and appointed ACLU lawyers to represent inmates. Meanwhile the families have become more organized, started a website, and have been lobbying state policymakers.

The Lovelock prison is now best known for inmate number 1027820—O.J. Simpson. Its location in Lovelock, which has limited housing, has meant in some cases that prison workers have commuted from Reno, a distance of 250 miles. The relative isolation of the two prisons has meant the state has had chronic difficulties in keeping the facilities staffed.

In addition, because family visits are ranked high in rehabilitation factors, the isolation can be hazardous.

Lovelock is a medium security facility, Ely a maximum security prison. Lovelock opened in August 1995, Ely in July 1989. Ely has an inmate capacity of 1,150, Lovelock of 1,680.

Lee Rowland, the ACLU chief in Northern Nevada, said, “We have mixed feelings about the possible move to privatize prisons and move them closer to urban areas. On the one hand, long distances between prisoners and their families makes rehabilitation difficult and hurts families. Further, having prisons in remote parts of the state also poses logistical problems for delivery of critical medical services, as we have seen firsthand in our investigation of and litigation concerning medical care at Ely State Prison. On the other hand, privatization raises a whole panoply of problems and would worsen problems of accountability and oversight of prisons. Finally, the ACLU of Nevada firmly believes that policing and incarcerating should solely be state duties, and should not be farmed out to the lowest bidder.”

It’s not clear why a private prisons corporation like Corrections Corporation of America or Wackenhut would want to build two urban prisons for the state to run and then take over the two rural prisons themselves. In any event, if the deal went through, the state would have two private prisons over which it had limited control, with the corporation bringing inmates, state and federal, from other states.

Assemblymember Bernie Anderson of Washoe County, chair of the Assembly Judiciary Committee, said he does not believe the commission was familiar with the history of private prisons in Nevada before it made its recommendation. He speculates that one reason the corporations might go for it would be because it offers them a way back into the Nevada market after some bad experiences the state had with privatization in the past, including some incidents Anderson called “tragic.” In those cases, the corporations ran state prisons for Nevada rather than operated their own prisons, drawing inmates from other states.

“Generally speaking, Las Vegas and Clark County have not wanted a [private] facility in their urban environment, so I’m not sure the communities have been looking on them with an open view. … They have such a poor reputation currently with their performance here in Nevada,” Anderson said. Lobbyists for private prison corporations, he said, have made no headway in recent legislative sessions because of past events in the state.

Sen. William Raggio of Washoe County, the ranking Republican member of the Nevada Senate budget committee and a former district attorney, said lawmakers need to seriously scrutinize the commission’s proposal, but that there are areas of concern. For one, he said, while he supports private operation of prisons, he’s not sure that it should include maximum security facilities like Ely.

“I’m not sure it’s the panacea today,” he said. “They’ve had some bad experiences with us. I know that Corrections Corporation of America, for one, does a good job. I’m not sure they can handle maximum security prisons. I think that an analysis is in order. Let’s really look at how cost effective it is.”

The commission recommendation may also conflict with state prison officials’ plans. Nevada currently has one prison in Clark County shut down, and already has one urban maximum security prison in Carson City. Nevada prisons director Howard Skolnik wants to close the Carson City max and rely on the Ely max.

Skolnik is on furlough and unavailable for an interview. Deputy director Don Helling declined to be interviewed.

Note on 25 Jan. 2010: We received an email from a reader saying that Lovelock is not 250 miles from Reno, rather, it is about 1.5 hours drive.

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Furlough exemptions granted, correctional officers, other prison staff excluded from mandate

Nov. 11, 2009
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal

STATE SPENDING: Furlough exemptions granted
Correctional officers, other prison staff excluded from mandate

By ED VOGEL
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL CAPITAL BUREAU

CARSON CITY — To better ensure public safety, the state Board of Examiners voted unanimously Tuesday to exempt Department of Corrections employees from the one-day-a-month furloughs mandated for other state employees.

The board, chaired by Gov. Jim Gibbons, decided to use almost all remaining money in a $4 million furlough exemption fund to free correctional employees from a requirement to take an unpaid day off each month through June 30.

Board members also authorized state Corrections Director Howard Skolnik to charge about $800,000 in rent for the use of canteens and gyms in state prisons over the next year and a half to help pay for the furlough exemption in the 2010-11 fiscal year. The money would come out of canteen profits. Prisoners themselves would not pay these costs.

In addition, Skolnik can use $590,000 in federal funds to pay for the furlough exemptions. The funds are given to the state to cover costs of housing prisoners who are in the country illegally.

He also will try to rent out the now-closed Southern Nevada Correctional Center in Jean to raise $2.5 million.

If he can secure the rental funds, then Correctional Department employees will not be required to take furlough days in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Furloughing correctional employees would not be safe for the prisons or the public, Skolnik said after the meeting.

“The staff recognizes if we take furloughs we increase the likelihood of their injury or death,” he said. “We are understaffed to start with by 15 percent.”

Furloughing employees would mean that at any one time prisons would have 20 percent fewer employees than full staffing, he added.

The Legislature earlier this year approved one-day-a-month furloughs for all state employees as a way to cut pay by 4.6 percent. Gibbons had proposed cutting salaries of all state employees by 6 percent. But legislators reasoned that it would fairer to give employees an unpaid day off a month.

Skolnik said he never was asked to testify before legislators on the effects of furloughs on public and private safety. He said furloughs would force him to close towers and end visitation at some prisons.

The Geo Group, a private prison company formerly known as Wackenhut Correctional Services, has discussed renting the Jean prison next year. The company operates 50 prisons in five countries.

“My guess is they are looking for tenants right now,” he said.

The California prison system needs to find space to house as many as 2,600 inmates and Skolnik said it might be interested in contracting with Geo to use the Jean prison.

He estimated that he would know within 30 days to 45 days whether the prison can be rented starting July 1.

Geo’s management of inmates has resulted in litigation this year.

In April, Geo was ordered by the federal appeals court in Texas to pay $42.5 million in punitive damages to the family of an inmate who was alleged to have been killed while guards looked on.

The company also was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union in June for cruel and unusual treatment of inmates in New Mexico. Guards kept seven inmates nude or semi-nude in a cold shower room in December 2008, according to the allegations.

Furlough exemptions granted, correctional officers, other prison staff excluded from mandate

Nov. 11, 2009
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal

STATE SPENDING: Furlough exemptions granted
Correctional officers, other prison staff excluded from mandate

By ED VOGEL
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL CAPITAL BUREAU

CARSON CITY — To better ensure public safety, the state Board of Examiners voted unanimously Tuesday to exempt Department of Corrections employees from the one-day-a-month furloughs mandated for other state employees.

The board, chaired by Gov. Jim Gibbons, decided to use almost all remaining money in a $4 million furlough exemption fund to free correctional employees from a requirement to take an unpaid day off each month through June 30.

Board members also authorized state Corrections Director Howard Skolnik to charge about $800,000 in rent for the use of canteens and gyms in state prisons over the next year and a half to help pay for the furlough exemption in the 2010-11 fiscal year. The money would come out of canteen profits. Prisoners themselves would not pay these costs.

In addition, Skolnik can use $590,000 in federal funds to pay for the furlough exemptions. The funds are given to the state to cover costs of housing prisoners who are in the country illegally.

He also will try to rent out the now-closed Southern Nevada Correctional Center in Jean to raise $2.5 million.

If he can secure the rental funds, then Correctional Department employees will not be required to take furlough days in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Furloughing correctional employees would not be safe for the prisons or the public, Skolnik said after the meeting.

“The staff recognizes if we take furloughs we increase the likelihood of their injury or death,” he said. “We are understaffed to start with by 15 percent.”

Furloughing employees would mean that at any one time prisons would have 20 percent fewer employees than full staffing, he added.

The Legislature earlier this year approved one-day-a-month furloughs for all state employees as a way to cut pay by 4.6 percent. Gibbons had proposed cutting salaries of all state employees by 6 percent. But legislators reasoned that it would fairer to give employees an unpaid day off a month.

Skolnik said he never was asked to testify before legislators on the effects of furloughs on public and private safety. He said furloughs would force him to close towers and end visitation at some prisons.

The Geo Group, a private prison company formerly known as Wackenhut Correctional Services, has discussed renting the Jean prison next year. The company operates 50 prisons in five countries.

“My guess is they are looking for tenants right now,” he said.

The California prison system needs to find space to house as many as 2,600 inmates and Skolnik said it might be interested in contracting with Geo to use the Jean prison.

He estimated that he would know within 30 days to 45 days whether the prison can be rented starting July 1.

Geo’s management of inmates has resulted in litigation this year.

In April, Geo was ordered by the federal appeals court in Texas to pay $42.5 million in punitive damages to the family of an inmate who was alleged to have been killed while guards looked on.

The company also was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union in June for cruel and unusual treatment of inmates in New Mexico. Guards kept seven inmates nude or semi-nude in a cold shower room in December 2008, according to the allegations.

Prison chief: seven staff members accused of felonies

Las Vegas Sun:

By Cy Ryan
Thursday, Nov. 12, 2009 | 3:31 p.m.

CARSON CITY – Inmates in the Nevada state prison system aren’t the only ones who have had brushes with the law.

There have been seven felony arrests of prison staff in recent months. One of the officers was charged with armed robbery and attempted assault on a law enforcement officer. That alleged offense occurred in Nye County.

Howard Skolnik, director of the state Department of Corrections, said he has a “serious problem” in Clark County where 29 correctional officers have been terminated. He said these were both probation and full-time officers.
“There’s 180,000 hours worth of training going out the window,” Skolnik told a Thursday meeting of the Advisory Commission on the Administration of Justice. “There are weaknesses in doing our background checks.”

The commission, at its first meeting since the Legislature, elected Assemblyman William Horne, D-Las Vegas, as chairman succeeding Chief Justice James Hardesty. Horne said one of the priorities of the commission this time will be victims’ rights.
The commission re-elected Attorney General Catherine Masto as chairwoman of the subcommittee on victims of crime, and Sen. David Parks, D-Las Vegas, as selected chairman of the subcommittee on Juvenile Justice.

Skolnik told the commission there was a “pattern” of inmates who are released from the prison in Susanville, Calif., ending up in Reno. He said some of those freed from prison in Los Angeles will travel to Las Vegas.

“I suspect they will have an impact on us,” he said.

But Bernard Curtis, chief of the state Division of Parole and Probation, said Nevada transports several hundred more out of state than Nevada receives from other states.
Skolnik told the commission that the prison system is about 300 inmates below what was budgeted.

He said he hopes to know within 90 days about plans to lease the closed-down Southern Nevada Correctional Center in Clark County to a firm called Geo for $2.5 million a year.

He said Geo wants to do some cosmetic and upgrades but he wants to make sure the state can take back the prison within 180 days if there is a major increase in the number of inmates.

##

Geo is a private prisons contractor. The Southern Nevada Correctional Center will be leased to a private prisons company. Is this the second private prison to open in Nevada?

Also note the 180,000 dollars to pay for training hours of 29 officers…

"Nevada Southern Detention Center: A Work in Progress"


What a waste! In this day and age, to build a 1072-person prison, in a state where water is scarce. To call it “environmentally-friendly” is utter arrogance. Private prisons earn money on keeping people locked up. This should not be something to earn money on. The accent in the whole of society should shift from locking up to correction, rehabilitation, forgiveness and education. This will create a lot of jobs, and these are much more constructive and rewarding than guarding people behind bars. This is the ´facility´ (to use a euphemism for prison) that is being built near Pahrump:

http://www.insidecca.com/inside-cca/sourthern-nevada-construction/

Although construction on Nevada Southern Detention Center is still in its early stages, the 120-acre parcel where the facility will stand is bustling with daily activity. Construction began in early May and is on schedule to be completed by the third quarter of 2010.

Chris Murphree, CCA director, Construction Management, oversees the Nevada Southern construction process. “In my role, I review the construction schedule with contractors, ensure that the scope we need is put in place and monitor the budget,” he explains.

Upon completion, Nevada Southern will be a 1,072-bed, medium-to maximum-security facility occupying 60 acres of the parcel where it’s situated.

“Nevada Southern will be outfitted with state-of-the-art security electronics and equipment, and its design will incorporate energy-saving features,” says Tim Debuse, CCA senior director, Project Development. Environmentally-friendly features include low-flow toilets, lavatories and showers, as well as energy-efficient light fixtures and reflective white roofs.

“This is a new design that we believe will enable us to manage the population more efficiently, and it will also offer great financial value to our customer, the U.S. Marshals Service,” says Bart Verhulst, CCA vice president, Federal and Local Customer Relations.

Together, the design and location of the facility are cost effective. “Instead of using multiple facilities with varying conditions, locations and proximities to the federal courts, it allows the customer to put their population in one facility where they can more effectively monitor offenders and efficiently move them to and from the courts in Las Vegas,” Verhulst explains.


More links:

Nevada Southern Detention Center Approved For CCA (04-09-2009)

CCA announces contract award for new detention center (2008)

Their press release about this mega-facility

Corrections Corporation of America in Nevada (2008)

Leap are the engineers of this ´project´.

Here a link to the critical watchers of the private prison complex:
http://www.privateci.org/nevada.htm