Prison Director: Tax Repeal Could Spell Crisis

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Nevada corrections chief Jackie Crawford supports prison guards' requests for more staff and higher pay - but says those goals are threatened by an initiative petition to repeal last year's record $833 million tax increase.

In a July 27 letter released at a Monday rally of guards, Crawford told the union that represents them that voter approval of the petition in November would "undoubtedly result in more inmate crowding and in the use of fewer staff to manage a growing population.

"Given that Nevada has one of the highest incarcerations rates among all states and the second-highest inmate-to-staff ratio, we believe that this department will be in crisis if that initiative were to pass," Crawford warned.

Prison guards say the state prisons already are in a state of crisis because of staff shortages.

Wally Tarantino, a lawyer for the Nevada Corrections Association, said guards were encouraged by Crawford's apparent agreement with the union on many of the staffing and funding issues. He said it's the first time a director has ever sided with the officers on those issues.

Gene Columbus, president of the association, said the staff is "stretched thin" when officers are pulled from their posts for training or inmate transportation or to fill in for other guards who call in sick.

About 35 off-duty officers showed up for the rally. A handful had signs that read, "Corrections, the toughest beat in Nevada," or "Public Safety: Not for Sale" or "Corrections: the backbone of Public Safety."

Crawford said she dislikes pulling guards off posts to stay within the budget, and will request in her upcoming budget that the prison system be able to use the money saved when positions are vacant, rather than returning it to the general treasury.