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Criminal Justice | State Government

James Dzurenda, head of Nevada prisons, to resign after 3 years on the job

Inmates in the yard at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City on May 19, 2017. Photo by David Calvert.

Nevada Department of Corrections Director James Dzurenda is resigning after a little more than three years at the helm of the state’s prisons. 

The governor’s office and the corrections agency jointly announced Dzurenda’s departure on Friday, saying that he was leaving to pursue new opportunities and spend more time with his family and children in Southern Nevada. The effective date of his resignation is expected to be announced in the near future, officials said.

“I appreciate all that Jim has done for the State of Nevada, including his robust efforts to begin reforming Nevada’s correctional institutions,” Gov. Sisolak said in a statement. “I thank him for his years of public service in state government and wish him and his family the best of luck. I am confident that he will be successful in all of his future endeavors.”

Sisolak’s office said they will be launching both an in-state and national search for his replacement. Dzurenda said it was an honor to serve with prisons personnel for the past three years.

“Under Governor Sisolak’s leadership, we have made significant reforms to the criminal justice and correctional systems,” Dzurenda said. “Although there is more to be done, I have great confidence that Governor Sisolak will establish Nevada as a model for its fair and reformative correctional programs. I wish Gov. Sisolak and his administration nothing but the best.”

Dzurenda had a lengthy career in jails and prisons in Connecticut starting in 1987, before becoming a deputy commissioner with the New York City Department of Correction in 2014, where he oversaw facilities including Rikers Island.

He came to Nevada in April 2016, after some turmoil within the department. Former Gov. Brian Sandoval asked former director Greg Cox to resign in 2015 after he failed to produce a timely report on a shooting that occurred at High Desert State Prison and wasn’t publicly revealed to be a homicide for several months. Longtime prisons employee E.K. McDaniel served for several months in the interim. 

One of Dzurenda’s first steps as director was to adopt a vision statement that focused less on keeping people away from the outside population and instead setting a goal to “reduce victimization and recidivism by providing offenders with incentive for self-improvement and the tools to effect change.” 

He also banned the use of shotguns by correctional officers — a practice meant to quell uprisings but that has fallen out of favor nationally.

On his watch, the department faced allegations that it had acquired drugs for lethal injection illegally and with subterfuge. Courts postponed the scheduled execution of Scott Dozier as a result last summer, and Dozier earlier this year died by suicide.

Dzurenda oversaw the Second Chance Act grant, a federal award aimed at reducing the reoffense rate within a target group by 15 percent in the first two years and 50 percent over five years. The University of Nevada, Reno was contracted to study the effectiveness of the strategy, but has not released a report.

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