NV’s Retiring Skolnik: Legislators Ignorant Of Prison Issues


Nevada corrections director Howard Skolnik is retiring because he doesn’t think he’d be retained by Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval, who takes office next month., he tells the Las Vegas Sun. Skolnik developed a reputation as an innovator who had inmates work on projects involving far more creativity than the traditional license plate programs usually associated with prison labor. There was an auto restoration by inmates that included assembly of the famed Shelby Cobra sports car. Inmates developed a clothing line, fed stray horses, created stained glass, and began manufacturing Bighouse Choppers, billed as the only outlaw motorcycles made by real outlaws.

With Nevada’s inmate to prison staff ratio is second highest in the nation behind Alabama , Skolnik embarked on an ambitious plan to build prisons and upgrade existing ones. He succeeded in adding 1,000 beds and got some relief when the prison population began flattening out. That was because of legislation that allowed mostly nonviolent offenders to be released earlier, along with a drop in crime rates. He says that most state legislators have no idea how prisons operate. “What they need to do, frankly, is spend a month walking a prison yard interacting with the staff and inmates to find out what goes on inside of a prison,” Skolnik said. “My worst day was, after 40-plus years of public service, being called a liar by members of the legislature in a public hearing. The reason I was called a liar is that they have no clue. They do not understand the operation of the facilities.”

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