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Nevada Prisons Plagued By Staffing Shortages

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High Desert Prison
"HighDesertPrisonNevada" by Joe (JX) - Das Clink. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Nevada's High Desert Prison. Recent reports highlight major staffing problems in Nevada's prison system.

Correctional officers in Nevada's prisons are having to do more and more with less and less resources, to the point of putting their own safety at risk.

Staffing at Nevada’s prison systems are at dangerously low levels – and a high turnover rate due to nominal pay and improper training exacerbates the problem.

Las Vegas Review-Journal's John L. Smith has interviewed more than two dozen correctional facility officers, on the condition of their anonymity. The legislature doesn't seem to be concerned with the incidents that have occurred over the past year, including one inmate being shot and killed.

Smith told KNPR’s State of Nevada that one of the biggest problems is the high turnover rate brought on by poor pay and benefits. He said even though they go through training similar to police officers, the pay isn’t the same.

“The pay that they receive on the other end is not really very competitive with other law enforcement so you don’t get a lot of job loyalty,” Smith said.

He said budget cuts and unpaid furloughs have made the problem worse.

The staff turnover has meant a shortage. Smith said at Southern Desert Correctional Center outside Indian Springs it is common to have one trained officer watching 200 inmates during recreation time.

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“There are only so many sets of eyes available,” Smith said.

Correction officers are also struggling because of rules within the prison that allow prisoners a lot of rights, and if they feel like those rights were violated, they can file a complaint, which is not something management wants.

“Management is faced with this very imperfect system as well,” Smith said.

Smith said the officers he talked to would like to see improvements in training, equipment and the tools of the job. He pointed to the fact that until recently corrections officers weren’t allowed to use pepper spray because of complaints by inmates and now only a few officers have it.

However, he believes the biggest improvement will come with better pay and benefits, which will ultimately mean more officers will be satisfied with their jobs and stay.

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John L. Smith, columnist, Las Vegas Review-Journal