LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Holes under the fences and prisons that are “falling apart” after years of neglect are just some of the problems James Dzurenda faces as he returns to lead the Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC).
Dzurenda, speaking Friday in Carson City before the Nevada Assembly Judiciary Committee, said prisons need repairs, and some obvious problems need to be addressed, including holes under fences caused by runoff from mountains above High Desert State Prison — about a half hour northwest of Las Vegas.
Dzurenda takes over an agency that was reeling after convicted killer Porfirio Duarte-Herrera escaped from Southern Desert Correctional Center on Sept. 23. NDOC failed to immediately notify state officials and the public. The incident led to the resignation of NDOC director Charles Daniels. Duarte-Herrera was missing for about a week before Metro police captured him as he was about to board a bus to Mexico.
The biggest news from Dzurenda: He’s reviving programs that take advantage of volunteers, family and organizations designed to help prisoners re-enter society.
“I am opening up the agency to volunteers, to the community organizations that are begging to come in,” Dzurenda said. Lawmakers and public commenters welcomed the news, and no concerns about safety came up in questions that followed his presentation.
The programs were shut down since Dzurenda left after running NDOC during Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval’s second term.
“For whatever reason, beliefs of security issues, beliefs that it’s not practical,” he said.
“It is practical,” Dzurenda said.
“There is no security issue when you’re dealing with trying to return those offenders back to the community with their families and with those resources. I’m breaking those obstacles. I’m bringing all those resources in, the families in, because I know that’s going to be our biggest success,” he said.
He announced plans to shut down an inmate camp in Humboldt County, and move young offenders to prison facilities in Carson City. Both moves are designed to eliminate staffing problems and get inmates help they need, Dzurenda said. Young offenders are currently sent to Lovelock — a prison that NDOC struggles to fully staff, and a difficult place to provide some of the services that inmates need.
Some doors, windows and gates at prisons were built by companies that are out of business, and prisons need repairs to maintain proper security, Dzurenda said.
He also said he wants inmates to have access to wireless devices, and possibly email. That will allow them to re-enter society with records they need, such as birth certificates. It’s an important step that will allow inmates to re-enter the workforce when they are released, Dzurend said.
District 6 Democratic Assemblywoman Shondra Summers-Armstrong was emotional as she reacted to Dzurenda’s plans. She said inmates are dropped off in her district at a place along Bonanza Road with $25 and no ID. “We have been struggling for two years to get someone to listen,” she said.