What Do Guard Shortages Mean for Nevada Prisons and Inmates?

Correctional officers and prison guards in Nevada have to do more for less, working for smaller wages than other law enforcement officials, putting up with inmate harassment, and living in rural communities that are often short on affordable housing. Finally, prison guards hit a breaking point and Nevada declared a critical shortage of rural prison guards. Nevada prison guard shortages can be credited to Budget cuts and unpaid furloughs, which is leading many to wonder what will happen to Nevada’s prisons and inmates.

Exploring the Root of the Problem

Today’s Nevada prison guard shortages didn’t come out of nowhere. Nevada’s prisons have been afraid of such as shortage for the last few years, as the turnover rate for guards continued to climb. Correctional officers in Nevada face poor pay and subpar benefits, even though they go through similar training to police officers. The pay isn’t competitive compared with other law enforcement jobs, resulting in low job loyalty and not many interested in the job.

A Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter says it’s common to have one trained officer in charge of 200 inmates during recreation time at Southern Desert Correctional Center. At High Desert State Prison in Indian Springs, the shortage can create a serious problem. This is one of Nevada’s toughest prisons, with a capacity of 4,176 inmates, lethal electrical fencing, and armed guard towers. The Nevada prison guard shortages speak to inefficient training procedures, lack of equipment, dismal salaries, and low job satisfaction.

Officials within the industry believe the imperfect prison system is partially to blame, with rules that give inmates a lot of rights. Inmates can file complaints against prison guards, leading to regulations against pepper spray and other self-defense tools. These laws infringe on a guard’s sense of self-protection and control, making the job even less attractive to prospective employees who are wary of inmates harassing them.

Mostly, however, officials believe improvements to pay and benefits would help solve the problem. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department is also hiring correctional officers, a job that pays significantly better than being a prison guard. Well-paid mining jobs in Ely have also led to the increase of prison guard vacancies.

State Solutions to the Shortage

In March of 2016, the Nevada Board of Examiners approved a designation that lets the state rehire retired guards. Officials within the Nevada Department of Corrections have since brought back some retired guards who had expressed an interest in returning to the prisons to work. Despite the state’s efforts to spread the word about the critical labor shortage via the Internet and social media, the prisons are still short of the necessary number of officers.

Last January, over 100 of the state’s 522 rural corrections officer positions were unfilled. The Ely State Prison has not filled all their positions at one time in the last five years. Prison officials have so far responded to the problem by scheduling guards for overtime, but they fear this will only lead to employee burnout and further turnover. Nevada also suffers from an overwhelming number of labor vacancies in other industries, including Highway Patrol and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.

As of today, Nevada officials are still trying to recruit more correctional officers to state prisons. No news outlets have reported drastic effects on the prisons or inmates as a result of the shortage, but if the situation doesn’t reverse soon, the state may have to take measures such as offering better salaries and benefits to entice guards. If the guard shortage problem persists, Nevada may have to rethink its current law enforcement system in favor of one that makes a guard’s duties more attractive to prospective hires.