It wasn’t cheap to house O.J. Simpson at the Lovelock Correctional Center. Nor was it easy.
Simpson, 70, was freed Sunday after spending nearly a decade behind bars for his role in the robbery of two sports memorabilia collectors in Las Vegas.
Simpson was convicted of 12 charges, including robbery and kidnapping, and served nine to 33 years in prison.
His time at the prison cost the state thousands of dollars in overtime to provide extra security for his parole hearing. And it cost officials a lot of headaches, thanks to the media frenzy.
Breaking down expenses
Typically, the costs of housing Simpson is the same as any other inmate, according to Scott Ewart, chief of fiscal services for the Nevada Department of Corrections.
In total, it costs taxpayers $58.31 per day to house an inmate, about $21,283 per year. That means it cost $191,547 to hold Simpson at the prison for nine years.
“Housing, food, clothing and any medical expenditures are the bulk of all the inmate driven costs,” Ewart said, adding it all makes up about 90 percent of expenses. “It also includes inmate operating supplies such as paper and things like that.”
Those costs come from the general fund, driven by taxpayer money. Had Simpson served his full sentence of 33 years, it would have cost taxpayers $702,339 to keep him imprisoned.
But the department also spent an additional $22,000 for 548 hours of overtime to provide additional security during Simpson’s parole hearing in July—something the state doesn’t usually do.
“Typically, we as a department don’t incur sizable overtime hours for inmate parole hearings,” Ewart said.
Feeding the frenzy
About 150 members of the media swarmed the prison in July to report on Simpson’s hearing, according to Brooke Keast, spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Corrections.
“This is different,” Keast said. “In most prison systems, when you have an inmate in high-profile cases, it’s because of a crime.
“In this case, he was a celebrity before. There are some people who know of his abilities on the football field. Some people know him from the Hertz commercials. And others remember him from the 'Naked Gun' movies as a movie star.”
The former NFL start turned actor captured the nation’s attention following the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman, in 1994. He was acquitted of the murder charges the following year.
Keast said she’s had to deal with media inquiries since the beginning of the year because there’s so much national interest.
“We’ve had people contact us from all over the world to get information on O.J.,” she said. “We‘ve had other inmates who were high profile based on their crime, and that gets reporters calling. But nothing like the amount of interest O.J. has generated being in custody.”
Keast said the level of interest is on par with the recent interest in the upcoming voluntary execution of convicted murderer Scott Dozier, the first in Nevada in 11 years.
She’s received emails from reporters asking for Simpson’s visitation list.
She’s had media asking for “every letter that O.J. sent out.”
“If it’s sent out, how would I have access to it?” Keast said. “The mail is protected. We can’t just tear through inmate mail and give that out.
“We don’t have a person making copies of mail from 14,000 inmates. I can’t even imagine making copies of all that.”
And she’s had people asking about whether Simpson was watching the FX series, “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime story,” or ESPN’s documentary “O.J.: Made in America.”
“That generated so much interest,” Keast said. “I had media calling me at the release of each of the shows. They wanted to know if O.J. was watching. They wanted to know if he had his own television. They wanted to know what he thought about it.”
And the interest doesn’t just come from media in the U.S., but from around the world. All eyes were on Lovelock during his parole hearing.
“The phone was ringing off the hook for two months to six weeks before the parole hearing,” Keast said.
'It’s due to the notoriety of the crime'
Officials with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation have dealt with media interest in certain inmates, as well, according to Jeffery Callison, assistant secretary of communications.
Keast said the Nevada Department of Corrections has contacted officials from other states to learn how to deal with the national spotlight.
“We don’t call them celebrity inmates,” Callison said. “We have inmates considered public interest cases.”
“Often times, it’s due to the notoriety of the crime,” he said.
Callison said California houses 130,000 inmates in 35 prisons, and state officials receive all kinds of calls and emails.
“We always get a lot of calls from around the world because our prison system is already high profile,” he said. “It’s just the nature of being in California, so we get a lot of interest.”
Callison said he receives a lot of calls on Charles Manson, who is serving life with the possibility of parole. Manson, now 82, was the mastermind behind the 1969 series of murders in Los Angeles.
“We get documentary crews from all over the world asking to film at our prisons,” Callison said. “…But we could not possibly accept all requests from media even if we wanted to because we get too many.”
Safety comes first
Keast said she and David Smith, of the Nevada Department of Parole and Probation, worked with law enforcement to make sure Simpson was safe from the public.
Simpson was sitting alone in a cell for his own safety, Keast said. He was previously housed in 7.5-foot-by-12.5-foot cell, 6 inches bigger than other cells.
Keast said he was kept in an Americans with Disabilities Act-approved cell because it’s in an area closer to correction officers, who could keep an eye on him.
“We’re not about to have something happen to him before he leaves,” Keast said before Simpson's release, when asked why he was isolated from other cellmates. “And there are people who would try something to make a name for themselves.”
Simpson was released early Sunday from the prison in Lovelock where he had served his sentence.
Keast said Nevada inmates are usually released at High Desert State Prison just outside of Las Vegas.
Inmates are usually transferred to the releasing prison on a bus, along with other prisoners. Before the release, Keast said the department might do something different because Simpson is a high-profile inmate.