(Sean Whaley/Nevada News Bureau) – The state Board of Examiners voted unanimously today to exempt correctional officers and other essential personnel with the Nevada Department of Corrections from a one-day-a-month furlough requirement.
The exemption was approved only for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2010. The agency had already been exempted on a month-to-month basis for furloughs that began for most state employees on July 1.
Howard Skolnik, director of the department, identified areas of savings in his budget that will generate the $3.8 million needed to cover the cost of eliminating the furloughs for the 2009-2010 fiscal year.
The Board of Examiners, made up of Gov. Jim Gibbons, Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Secretary of State Ross Miller, approved the proposal.
Skolnik said the money to cover the cost of keeping correctional officers working full-time will come from several sources, including lease payments from inmates for their use of gyms and prison store space. The payments would come from the inmate welfare fund, which generates revenue from sales of items to inmates. Inmates are already paying for the equipment and staffing at these types of facilities, so it seems logical to charge for the use of the space as well, he said.
If the furlough exemption is to be continued in the second fiscal year of the budget, additional savings will be required. One potential source of revenue is the leasing of the Southern Nevada Correctional Center in Jean to a private firm to house inmates, Skolnik said. The state closed the facility in June 2008.
The GEO Group Inc., a private correctional management company based in Florida, has expressed an interest in using the facility for a payment of $2.5 million to the state for one year beginning July 1, 2010, he said.
The 2009 Legislature approved the furlough program as a way to balance the state budget. Gibbons had proposed a straight pay cut instead.
Skolnik said the Legislature never asked him about the furlough concept and whether it would work for his department. The agency is already understaffed to start with by about 15 percent, he said.
Furloughs, which would reduce staffing levels by another 5 percent, would increase the risk of injury and death to staff because key positions and services could not be provided, Skolnik said.
“From my perspective furloughs for correctional officers are not a viable alternative,” he said.