Las Vegas Sun

May 7, 2015

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Corrections officers say prison staffing levels leave them vulnerable

CARSON CITY — Nevada prisons are understaffed, leaving guards vulnerable and unable to properly oversee inmates, correctional officers on Monday told the Board of State Prison Commissioners.

Michael Gavin, a correctional officer at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center, said there are 180 inmates for each guard at the prison. He also complained that officers are unarmed, and inmates have access to shovels and brooms that can be used as weapons.

Greg Cox, director of the state Department of Corrections, said staffing levels meet standards and that armed officers among the inmates would be a safety issue, because weapons could be wrested from the guards.

Officers in towers that surround the prisons are armed “to respond to a disturbance,” he said.

But that didn’t satisfy Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, who said she was “concerned about the safety and level of officers.” She called for an independent study of prison staffing and was supported by Gov. Brian Sandoval.

Since the issue was not on the posted agenda, the board will have to wait until its next meeting to officially make the request.

Cox said he could ask the National Institute of Corrections to conduct a study of staffing levels. In line with directions from Sandoval to submit a flat budget for the next two fiscal years, Cox has not asked for additional officers.

An evaluation of prison staffing needs was performed during the administration of Gov. Kenny Guinn, but the Legislature did not fund a request for more officers, prison officials said.

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