LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — There are 661 law enforcement vacancies inside Nevada prisons, according to the Department of Corrections. A union that represents nearly 400 correctional officers is calling for better pay.
“Eventually that string will snap and eventually it’s gonna cause a very serious incident,” Paul Lunkwitz, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Nevada C.O. Lodge 21, said.
The Special Board of Examiners, comprised of Governor Joe Lombardo, a Republican, Attorney General Aaron Ford, and Secretary of State Francisco Aguilar, both democrats, considered a new contract for correctional officers on Wednesday morning. The contract would have correctional officers’ salaries jump two pay grades.
While Ford and Aguilar voted in favor of the pay increase, Lombardo voted against it citing issues with a new contract such as holiday pay at two and half times the regular rate and additional personal days.
“Lombardo is committed to delivering two-grade pay increases, 8% and 4% in cost-of-living adjustment increases over the next two years, and $2,000 in annual retention incentives to all public safety employees,” a spokesperson wrote in an email to the 8 News Now Investigators.
Lunkwitz said the union asked for a 42% raise but would settle for a 32% increase. He pointed out that nearly 23% of correctional officer salaries are paid into the state pension program. Neighboring law enforcement agencies offer significantly higher salaries.
Low staffing inside Nevada prisons has resulted in lockdowns. At High Desert State Prison located in Indian Springs, about a 45-minute drive from Las Vegas, violence appears to have escalated. In a May 5 email obtained by the 8 News Now Investigators, the warden urged staff to be vigilant citing an increase in use-of-force incidents and inmates being disobedient to staff directives.
“There are many reasons for this disruptive behavior (i.e. institutional lockdowns, staffing, food, offender empowerment, etc.),” Warden Brian Williams wrote. “We have also received intel as it relates to threats of staff assault.”
Inmates tried to use prison-made shanks against officers at least twice in recent weeks.
Four officers were removed from regular duties in April after the death of an inmate. Christian Walker, 44, died less than 48 hours after force was used against him by several officers who used batons. The Nevada Department of Public Safety and the Attorney General’s office are investigating.
On Mother’s Day, visitation was shut down and there was a partial lockdown due to staffing being 35% less than what it should have been, the 8 News Now Investigators have learned.
There have been increased searches of cells in recent weeks. Since May 2, at least four weapons, one cell phone and 78 grams of methamphetamine were confiscated, according to the Department of Corrections.
A spokesperson for Governor Lombardo said he is concerned about the state prison system.
“The NDOC is streamlining its hiring process to onboard employees more efficiently and to ensure they’re receiving a paycheck more quickly. Additionally, the NDOC is crafting a robust marketing campaign to showcase the highlights of a career in corrections, emphasizing the opportunities to strengthen communities and be a part of a meaningful mission,” a spokesperson said.