'I have to fight and let you know this is unacceptable': Nevada CO's wife pens open letter to governor, DOC

Kirsten Liebendorfer is speaking out about the way her husband and his fellow COs are treated on the job

Kirsten Liebendorfer has also started a Change.org petition entitled "Help Corrections Officers and Their Families in Nevada." Learn more.

By Kirsten Liebendorfer

This is an open letter to Governor Sisolak, the Board of State Prison Commissioners, the director of the Nevada Department of Corrections and the general public of Nevada.

I am the wife of a 15-year NDOC veteran who has five more years until he is eligible for retirement. My husband is a senior officer currently assigned to Warm Springs Correctional Center (WSCC) in Carson City. Currently, there are approximately 35 officers operating under emergency staffing levels running WSCC 24/7. The legislature has approved 112 officer positions to fully staff WSCC.

Kirsten Liebendorfer, left, and her family
Kirsten Liebendorfer, left, and her family (Change.org)

Since COVID-19 shut down the world in March of 2020, my husband and his fellow officers have continued to work as essential employees of the State of Nevada. This included November 2020 when mismanagement by the associate warden of operations and administration lieutenant allowed inmates to be transferred into WSCC, which led to the complete shutdown of the institution. Countless officers, in addition to the inmate population, became infected, including my husband who brought the virus home unknowingly and infected the rest of our household of six.

By the end of 2020, those in charge of WSCC decided that it would be best to begin scheduling eight-hour shifts (three shifts per 24-hour period) instead of 12-hour shifts (two shifts per 24-hour period) all in the name of saving money. All of the officers “on the ground” were against this plan. Their complaint was that because WSCC is a relatively small institution, there was no way to man three complete shifts without massive overtime.

Between January 21 and December 19, 2021, there were 36,800 hours of overtime paid to officers in the smallest institution in the state. Based upon an average hourly wage of officers, this resulted in approximately $1,656,000 spent on overtime. Look at that number again. Over $1.6 MILLION in overtime. I urge you to look at OT numbers previous to 2020 and see if that “cost-saving measure” was indeed to the state’s benefit.

You may also notice the decrease in the number of officers at WSCC. Why did this number decrease? For starters, officers were tired after 2020, and when they were then told they had to work mandatory overtime in 2021, many chose their families over continuing to work for the state. Some walked away after over 12 years of employment with NDOC. That directly speaks to the lack of leadership NDOC has given to its officers.

My husband is an extremely hard worker. He has watched so many officers leave because they felt they had no choice, leaving to work at places like Amazon or in the private sector where they felt appreciated and would get substantially more pay with more respect from their superiors. When you have a mass exodus from any career, one should look at why. NDOC has not given a damn and has continued to turn a blind eye to the numbers, hoping that free hot dogs and soda being given away at recruiting fairs will do the job. In numerous other states, retention and hiring bonuses are being offered to maintain and hopefully increase the numbers of correctional officers within their state institutions.

“But Nevada doesn’t have that kind of money,” you may say. Well, the Nevada Cares Act Overview dated July 13, 2020 (page three, second bullet point) specifically states that “$7.3 million [is available] to help state, local and tribal law enforcement to respond to the coronavirus. Allowable projects and purchases include, but are not limited to, overtime, equipment (including law enforcement and medical personal protective equipment), hiring, supplies (such as gloves, masks, sanitizer), training, travel expenses, and addressing the medical needs of inmates in state, local and tribal prisons, jails, and detention centers.”

My family as well as countless others are making the decision to leave NDOC because our officers are not shown they are appreciated or that their mental and physical health is important. WSCC issues a Daily Management Report, which documents any pertinent activity on each shift. It also includes an accounting of all staff for each shift, such as hours of overtime needed for each shift, how many hours of sick leave, workers comp time off, vacant positions, etc. On January 15, 2022, there were 88 hours of vacant positions on day shift, 64 hours of vacant positions on swing shift, and 90 – NINTY – hours of vacant positions on graveyard. This equated to 51.5 hours of OT on days, 51 hours of OT on swing, and 40 hours of OT on graveyard. These reports used to also show which officers completed the OT and how many hours they did, but someone in the higher echelon of NDOC decided that information was too informational and the officers’ names are no longer included.

When you have so few officers, with so few hours of downtime to decompress, you have a decrease in mental awareness and acuity, slower physical response times, and overall a feeling of no one caring. Last year at WSCC, there was an officer who was jumped by 11 inmates on one of the tiers. He was a seasoned officer who had an extreme amount of defensive tactics training before joining NDOC. He had a severe concussion along with many other non-life-threatening injuries that lead him to quit after suing and winning his case against the state. He admitted that his mental acuity was lowered because of the overtime he was working. To be transparent, this man volunteered for OT because he was single with no kids and wanted to help out his fellow officers who had families. He could have paid for his kindness and integrity with his life.

I can’t tell you the level of anxiety I have when my husband leaves for work at five a.m., seeing him exhausted and functioning at a basic level knowing I won’t see him – as long as nothing goes wrong at WSCC – until close to 10 p.m. that night. NDOC, which is overseen by this board, has done nothing to show they give a damn about my husband and his fellow officers statewide. The worse the conditions, the more officers quit, leaving even smaller numbers to run the institutions.

If you don’t care about the officers, do you care about the inmates and their families and how much will be paid by the state in lawsuits because their incarcerated family member is not being treated with the proper care due to inadequate staffing? My guess is you don’t care either way. You and Governor Sisolak will continue to say too much money goes to corrections. The only ones NOT benefiting from that is the officers. How many directors do you need for the number of institutions in Nevada? How much do they deserve to get paid to do nothing to protect my husband?

I am infuriated. I will continue to shout from any rooftop I can about how dirty, conniving and unempathetic NDOC is to the people actually doing the dirty work.

Maybe all the current officers should just walk out? Will the directors come in and have the knowledge to run a whole institution alone? How will they feed on lockdown because of COVID? How will they respond when the inmates are angry and penned up from all the lockdowns? Bring in the national guard? The local police and NPH? Oh, wait. Ask them if they have the desire or the skills to work in a prison. I beg you to find one who will happily do it for the pay decrease they will receive.

Fix this problem. My husband’s life and our future is worth it. Multiply that by the number of officers employed by NDOC. Does it matter to you? Probably not, but I have to fight and let you know that this is unacceptable.

One officer just died last week. In his home. Alone. Cause of death? Internal stomach bleeding. The level of stress this job creates can easily lead to death. He left behind an adult son and a teenage daughter. What do you tell them? How do you explain to them why their father had to die because you looked the other way?

Correctional officers are overlooked by society because no one wants to think about what happens after convictions are passed down and inmates are incarcerated. They don't disappear. My husband and men and women like him are tasked with a job that few are willing to do. We must pay NDOC officers a wage and benefits that are commensurate with the job they are doing.

This letter was originally posted on CarsonNow.com and is republished under a Creative Commons Attribution License.

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