Former Nevada prisons chief returning under Gov. Lombardo

January 7, 2023 GMT

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A former Nevada state prisons chief who left the position in 2019 is returning to the post under newly inaugurated Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo.

James Dzurenda headed the state Department of Corrections for three years under then-Gov. Brian Sandoval, also a Republican. He resigned in July 2019 under Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat.

Ben Kieckhefer, chief of staff to Lombardo, confirmed Friday that Dzurenda will return to head the department. He is due to start Monday, Lombardo communications aide Elizabeth Ray said.

“The governor had prior experience with director Dzurenda, respected his approach to corrections and thought that he would be able to bring some stability back to that department, which is currently critically needed,” Kieckhefer said at a roundtable with reporters Friday.

Nevada state prisons have been beset in recent months by inmate violence, staffing shortages, the escape in September of a man convicted of a 2007 bombing in a parking structure at a Las Vegas Strip casino and the resignation in October of the prisons chief who had the job for almost three years.

Dzurenda will take over for William Gittere, who has been acting director since the departure of Charles Daniels.

Gittere in November ordered one state prison in Carson City closed as a safety, staffing and cost-cutting measure. He said it would let administrators boost staffing at other facilities and cut overtime and department operational costs by about $14 million a year.

Lombardo, a Republican former Clark County sheriff and head of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, was elected in November to replace Sisolak, who served one term. Lombardo was sworn in on Monday and held an inauguration ceremony on Tuesday.

After leaving the Nevada prisons chief position, Dzurenda served stints as corrections department consultant in North Las Vegas and sheriff of Nassau County on Long Island in New York.

The Nevada Department of Corrections has almost 10,000 inmates and about 2,850 employees at seven institutions, nine conservation camps and two transitional housing centers.