Friday, Oct. 16, 2009 | 2 a.m.
The head of the state prison system is accusing correctional officers of abusing their sick leave, further complicating staffing problems at Nevada’s lockups.
State Prison System Director Howard Skolnik said guards are calling in sick in greater numbers on holiday weekends. State employees are to use sick leave only when they are ill.
Skolnik cited for the Prison Board the number of correctional officers who called in sick during recent holiday weekends:
• On the Memorial Day weekend officers took 369 hours of sick leave the day before holiday, 62 hours on Memorial Day and 800 hours the day after the holiday.
• Officers took 397 hours of sick time the day before Presidents Day, 63 sick hours on the holiday and 883 hours the day after.
• Officers took 126 hours of sick leave on July 3, 285 hours on July 4 and 424 hours on July 5.
Skolnik said the prison system is staffed at 85 percent and the extra absences make operating the prisons difficult.
“We have staff abuse and it’s not fair to all staff,” he told the board.
Skolnik said he is developing a regulation to address the absences and will present it at the next board meeting.
Some prison employees criticized the proposed regulations.
Daniel Shoup, an officer at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center, said there may be a problem with certain individuals misusing sick leave, but said they should be dealt with individually instead of the entire staff having to deal with new regulations. He called the regulation a “slap in the face” to the staff.
“You’re breaking down morale on the staff,” Shoup said. “It cannot get much lower.”
Skolnik also told the Prison Board he has taken steps to cut expenses so prison correctional officers aren’t required to take monthly furloughs.
The 2009 Legislature ordered the one-day-a-month furloughs for state workers in an attempt to save money. The state Board of Examiners has given the prison an exception until November. To avoid furloughs the system must come up with another way to save $315,000 a month.
To cut costs, Skolnik said he has reduced overtime so far this fiscal year from $258,000 to $30,000. He has closed units 10 and 12 at the High Desert State Prison in Southern Nevada, and he has instituted a “rolling lockdown”— unannounced, periodic lockdowns to handle the shortage of officers — at another prison.
Skolnik said he is considering cancelling the extra 5 percent pay given to officers at prisons in Ely and Lovelock. Also being considered is charging rent to inmates for use of gyms.
Forcing officers to take a one-day furlough jeopardizes the safety of the staff and inmates, he said.
Tonya Brown showed up at the meeting of the state Board of Prison Commissioners on Tuesday carrying a container with the ashes of her brother, Nolan Klein, a former state prison inmate who died Sept. 21.
Klein was convicted of a 1988 sexual assault and robbery in Sparks. But Brown has long maintained the innocence of her brother and is continuing a court battle to prove it.
She accused the prison system of denying the rights of inmates to practice their religion and she asked the prison board to release Klein’s personal property, which must be held for 40 days after death, according to Nevada law.
She joined with others who advocated creation of an oversight committee for every prison.
The board did not take any action.