Corrections Watchdog: State Prison System ‘Unhealthy’

Corrections Watchdog: State Prison System ‘Unhealthy’
A man, who wished not to be named, prays outside the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln (World-Herald News Service)

Omaha, NE.—After nearly four years in office Governor Pete Ricketts continues to run a badly overcrowded and understaffed prison system that likes to keep secrets.

That’s the short and long of a 120 page report from a state corrections watchdog, which comes in the final weeks of Ricketts re-election campaign where Democrat Bob Krist continues to push for widespread prison reform.

In its third annual audit, The Office of Inspector General, an arm of the Nebraska Legislature, describes the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services and its 10 prisons as an “unhealthy agency” where “assaults and serious incidents” occur in many “antiquated” facilities.

The problems are compounded by Corrections Director Scott Frakes lack of transparency, according to the OIG. The report notes that while the OIG reached out to Frakes for any additional information he would like added to the report, “Director Frakes and the members of his executive team never provided any additional data or information to the OIG despite being given multiple opportunities.”

Despite Gov. Ricketts’ insistence that his administration is interested in correctional reforms, Nebraska remains the second most overcrowded prison in the country.

As of last month NDCS was operating at 157 percent of capacity, second only to Alabama’s 176 percent, and continues to stare-down a federal civil rights lawsuit accusing Nebraska  of overusing solitary confinement, while providing inadequate physical and mental health care, particularly for disabled inmates.

The OIG’s latest examination of Nebraska’s prison finds that improvements have been few and far between since last year’s report and comes with 30 prison-related recommendations including a plan addressing the backlog of over $60 million in fixes—the OIG says that plan should be in the hands of the Governor and the Legislature no later than December 1.

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