State denies lawsuit allegations that Nebraska inmates get substandard care in overcrowded prisons

LINCOLN — Lawyers for the state prison system are rejecting allegations in a federal lawsuit that inmates are getting substandard medical and mental health care.

In a 44-page response filed late Thursday, state attorneys denied assertions by the ACLU of Nebraska and 10 inmates that facilities are “overcrowded, discriminatory, and unconstitutional.”

The lawyers from the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office asked a U.S. District Court judge to dismiss the lawsuit or rule in favor of the state.

In August, after threatening for months to sue, the ACLU of Nebraska filed a lawsuit in federal court, claiming that “extreme” overcrowding in the state’s prison system had caused “needless suffering and death” of inmates, as well as unsafe conditions for staff.

The civil rights group, which has successfully sued other states to improve prison conditions, said the state system was in a dangerous and perpetual crisis because of a lack of resources and shortages of staff.

For several years, Nebraska prisons have been overcrowded. For the last quarter of 2017, state prisons held about 1,900 more inmates than their design capacity, about 57 percent overcapacity.

State lawyers, in their response Thursday, acknowledged a few of the ACLU’s claims but said inmates had not been harmed.

For instance, the state said that one inmate “experienced a short delay” in getting her HIV medication, but that the delay did not affect her condition. The state said that another inmate, who was being treated for depression and anxiety, had been placed in “five-point” restraints, but it was for no longer than necessary and was for “treatment purposes” after the inmate had attempted suicide.