Guards Rally Over Nevada Prison Staffing

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A state prison guard union plans to rally at the Nevada Capitol on Monday to call attention to its complants that prison staffing levels are dangerously low.

Gene Columbus, president of the Nevada Corrections Association, said the prisons are short of money and positions are left vacant for a shift or a day.

Glen Whorton, assistant director of the state Corrections Department, disputes the claim that staffing is dangerously low. He said overtime is authorized to keep officers on the job when vacancies must be filled for safety reasons.

But he agreed that positions are "pulled or shut down" because of a lack of staff. The department is documenting staffing levels and will present the information to the 2005 Legislature. For now, Whorton said the prisons must live with the budget approved by lawmakers in 2003.

Union leaders say that when the state faced financial shortfalls last year, the department adopted the policy of leaving a certain number of daily relief positions vacant in an effort to save money.

Columbus noted that there have been attacks on officers at prisons, including a riot of about 60 inmates at the High Desert State Prison near Indian Springs. Inmates in a lockdown unit at the Nevada State Prison in Carson City recently flooded their cells because their daily yard time was canceled due to the guard shortage.