The Department of Corrections, with nearly 13,000 inmates, faces a major drop in federal funding as stimulus money dries up. But legislators were told the shortfall would be backfilled with millions of dollars from the general fund under the governor’s proposal.
Sandoval’s prison budget includes $495.2 million in general fund money during the upcoming biennium that begins July 1. That would be a $56.5 million, or nearly 13 percent increase, over current general fund support.
Inmates, however, would no longer be provided free coffee, tea or fruit drinks, for an estimated savings of $400,000.
Some lawmakers said they were troubled that the corrections budget gets a generous backfill compared to education, which also watched stimulus money come to an end. Officials with Nevada’s higher education system have said the governor’s proposal will slash $162 million from their budgets.
Corrections officials pointed out that Nevada has the second highest inmate-to-staff ratio in the country, behind Alabama. Personnel accounts for 74 percent of the budget, and cutting nonpersonnel costs was the safest way to save money.
“We need to run a safe and secure environment,” said Jeff Mohlenkamp, deputy director of the Department of Corrections. “These items don’t damage our ability to run safe and secure prisons.”
Parts of the Nevada State Prison date to the 1860s, and closing it would save an estimated $16 million over the next two years. In hearings last year, officials said some cells in the penitentiary lack running water, and doors to those cells are left open so inmates can access bathroom facilities.
The prison, with about 700 inmates, also houses Nevada’s death chamber.
Lawmakers in 2009 rejected a proposal to close the prison, as did the state prison board last year.
Wednesday’s hearing was one of several pre-session overviews of the governor’s budget proposal that he released Jan. 24. The 2011 Legislature convenes Monday.