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Early Release Debacle Prompts Nevada Prison Director’s Resignation

Early Release Debacle Prompts Nevada Prison Director's Resignation

by Matthew T. Clarke

Jackie Crawford, director of the Nevada state prison system since May 2000, announced her resignation from the $116,000-a-year position on September 15, 2005. The announcement cited health issues -- a worsening back problem -- as the reason for stepping down. However, her resignation came amid controversy surrounding Crawford's approval of 98 early prisoner releases. Crawford was the first woman to head Nevada's prison system; she was replaced by Glen Whorton, the former deputy director of the Nevada DOC, who had retired in January 2005.

State government officials had praised Crawford as an innovative prison director who originated new programs benefiting both prisoners and the public. She was lauded for changing the way female prisoner and their children were treated, through parenting classes and other programs. The union that represents 800 of Nevada's prison guards, the State of Nevada Employee's Association (SNEA), however, was not as pleased with Crawford's performance. Both SNEA and the Nevada Corrections Association (NCA), which represents 450 state prison guards, criticized her for being soft on prisoners.

"This soft policy has made it progressively more dangerous for officers as inmates feel more empowered now than ever before," said Del Mallory, a lead organizer for SNEA.

Gene Columbus, a spokesman for NCA, said that Crawford's early release policy "bribes inmates to behave" by offering time off their sentences for performing prison labor.

Mallory claimed that an attack on three guards by fifteen prison gang members in May 2005 was a direct result of Crawford's "soft" policies. He alleged that the prisoners involved in the attack were "pampered" with a pizza party when they were transferred to Nevada State Prison.

Deputy prison director Greg Cox disagreed, saying he believed that improved intelligence on prison gangs and their leaders, combined with policy changes made following the May attack, gave prison officials a much better grip on security than they had had previously.

"We have more knowledge and more things going on than ever before," Cox stated. "We've done more in the last year than at any time in this department to deal with those types of inmates."

It wasn't Crawford's so-called "soft" policies that led to the greatest controversy surrounding her leadership; rather, it was her decision to release 124 prisoners between one and thirty days early. An audit by the Nevada Division of Internal Audits revealed that there was no paperwork to justify the granting of early release in 98 of those 124 cases.

The method by which the sentences were reduced was Crawford granting time credit for meritorious service -- essentially work performed by the prisoners while incarcerated. The problem was that, in 98 of the cases, documentation didn't show that the prisoners actually performed the work. One of the early releasees was a man convicted in a fatal drunk driving accident. His release brought the "Stop DUI of Las Vegas" organization into the fray, adding its political clout to the guards unions? criticism of Crawford.

Governor Kenneth Guinn accepted Crawford's resignation and denied that she was pressured to resign due to the early release controversy. He maintained that her resignation was mostly due to medical problems. Crawford was reassigned as a warden pending her retirement becoming effective; her successor, Glen Whorton, who retired on February 16, 2007, was replaced as Nevada?s DOC director by Howard Skolnik, a long-term corrections veteran.

Crawford's credentials prior to running the Nevada DOC included 30 years of corrections and criminal justice experience, executive director of the Arizona parole board, and two terms as an ACA commissioner. PLN successfully sued Crawford for banning PLN from Nevada prisons in 2000. [See: PLN, Sept. 2000, p. 9; Oct. 2001, p. 22].

Sources: Associated Press,,, Nevada Appeal, Las Vegas Sun,

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