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Some fear Nevada prison closure is bandage for dept. of corrections plagued with issues

Some fear prison closure is bandage for Nevada corrections dept. plagued with issues
Some fear prison closure is bandage for Nevada corrections dept. plagued with issues
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The Nevada Department of Corrections announced this week it would be closing Warm Springs Correctional Center in Carson City, but some worry the closure is only a bandage for a department plagued with severe staffing shortages.

Next month, state officials say they will begin moving the roughly 200 inmates at Warm Springs prison to nearby Northern Nevada Correctional Center.

Guards will be transferred to other northern Nevada prisons, which could include Lovelock Correctional Center, according to an internal memo obtained by News 4-Fox 11.

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The move is anticipated to reduce overtime and result in approximately $14 million in cost savings. The average uniformed staff member has been working 25-35 overtime hours per pay period, according to NDOC.

But one woman whose husband is a longtime correctional officer and the president of a union representing prison guards said they are skeptical the move will help NDOC boost staffing in the long term.

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The average vacancy rate at the three northern Nevada prisons has been between 47-52%.

It has now gotten to a pretty significant breaking point.

"Putting Band-aids here or there or putting your finger in the dam and trying to put your toes in the dam to keep it from flooding — that gets you by for a little bit. But you have to address the larger problem," said Paul Lunkwitz, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Nevada C.O. Lodge 21.

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Kirsten Liebendorfer's husband has worked as a correctional officer at Warm Springs for 11 years. She said the ongoing staff shortages are due to lower pay compared to other local law enforcement agencies.

Both the Washoe County Sheriff's Office and Carson City Sheriff's Office deputies have gotten significant salary bumps in recent years, Liebendorfer said. But correctional officers have received just a small cost of living increase, she said.

How are our officers supposed to continue to feed their families when there's no increase in cost of living?

She hopes some of the $14 million in expected cost savings can be allocated to increase wages to boost retention and recruitment.

"Where's that $14 million going? Are they going to take that NDOC budget savings and go 'Hey, let's give our officers who have maintained to be here and consistently shown up and give them a raise? Are we going to bump them up 20% so we can hang on to who we have left?" Liebendorfer said.

The NDOC denied our request for an interview for this report but did answer a series of questions by email. NDOC officials said all staff will retain their positions and seniority and that NNCC will remain below capacity after the transfer of Warm Springs inmates is finished.

Officials also said that Warm Springs will not be completely shut down, rather under a 'warm' closure where "regular maintenance will be conducted to keep it operationally sound in the event of re-opening."

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Email reporter Ben Margiott at Follow @BenMargiott on Twitter and Ben Margiott KRNV on Facebook.

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