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New Two Year State Budget Signed Into Law

Apr 27, 2021

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts has signed a new, $9.7 billion two-year state budget into law that includes property tax credits and money to potentially build a new state prison. Ricketts praised several aspects of the budget, including $1.45 billion in state money that will be used for various property tax reduction programs. The budget will grow by 1.7% annually over the two-year period. Ricketts did not veto any portion of the budget. 

Nebraska is inching closer to building a new, $230 million prison after state lawmakers approved design and planning money for the proposed facility to replace the state’s oldest prison. The measure won final approval despite objections from a few lawmakers who said the state should be spending money on housing, education, mental health services and other priorities rather than the proposed 1,512-bed prison. The funding includes $14.9 million to help state officials create plans and select a site for a prison that would house minimum, medium and maximum-security prisoners.

Nebraska Department of Corrections

The director of Nebraska’s prison system has unveiled plans to convert the state’s oldest prison into a minimum-security facility, but he says the plan would only work if lawmakers agree to build a separate, $230 million prison for higher-risk inmates. Nebraska Department of Correctional Services Director Scott Frakes says the proposal to overhaul the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln is part of a larger effort to ease overcrowding in the state prisons. Some lawmakers have questioned the costs.

Lincoln Journal Star

Nebraska lawmakers have kicked off a new session with plans to redraw the state’s political districts and promises to minimize the dysfunction that has creeped into the Legislature over the last several years. The new session began on a cordial note, with newly elected Speaker of the Legislature Mike Hilgers pledging to treat all senators equally and ensure full and fair debate on all measures that come before them.

Lincoln Journal Star

Nebraska lawmakers will begin a new session Wednesday that’s likely to be scaled back because of the pandemic, but they’ll still have a lot of big issues to debate, including a proposed $230 million prison and the mandatory redrawing of the state’s political districts. High on this year’s priority list is the Legislature’s once-a-decade redistricting ritual, a bitterly partisan process where lawmakers redraw the state’s legislative and congressional districts and others.

KETV

Nebraska’s corrections department will propose to lawmakers a new, $230 million prison to reduce chronic overcrowding that the agency's director says is likely to get worse. Corrections Director Scott Frakes will present the plan in the upcoming legislative session with backing from his boss, Gov. Pete Ricketts. State officials have tried for years to ease crowding in Nebraska’s prisons by expanding parole, changing some sentencing laws and creating new diversion programs.

ACLU of Nebraska

Even as a vaccine began trickling out to states this week, Nebraska's prisons continue to struggle with the spread of the coronavirus. The Nebraska Department of Correctional Services says 18 staff members across the state's prison system have tested positive for the virus since the end of last week. On Saturday, the department said 11 staffers had tested positive. Another three infected staffers were announced Sunday, and late Monday, the department said four more staffers had tested positive.

Black and Pink logo
Black and Pink

Black and Pink is an Omaha nonprofit supporting incarcerated members of the LBGTQ community and those living with HIV/AIDS, groups that can be especially vulnerable behind bars. With its yearly holiday cards campaign, the organization encourages those on the outside to remind folks in prison that they are not alone. Courtney Bierman spoke to Black and Pink members support coordinator Andrea Kszystyniak for more.

UNO

A new report from researchers at the University of Nebraska at Omaha shows that Black Nebraskans are far more likely to be arrested and placed behind bars. The Omaha World-Herald reports that the Black people also are significantly underrepresented among those receiving diversion or intervention services rather than jail time. The report found that the average number of arrests of Black people in Nebraska from 2014 to 2019 amounted to 19% of all arrests, while Blacks make up 5% of the state’s population.

Five years after Nebraska lawmakers approved a sweeping plan to reduce prison crowding, state officials are only marginally closer to fixing the problem despite millions of dollars in additional funding. Nebraska is virtually certain to fall into an “overcrowding emergency” on Wednesday, having missed a state-imposed deadline to reduce its inmate population below 140% of what its facilities were designed to hold. The emergency designation will force Nebraska officials to consider paroling all inmates who are eligible.

DCS Prepares For Visitations Despite Overcrowding Crisis

Jun 26, 2020

The Nebraska Department of Correctional Services says inmates will soon be able to visit with friends and family.  DCS officials say social-distancing will be maintained, face-masks will be required, and visitors will be have to undergo a health-screening.  They're still working out the details but hope to resume visitation the week of July 13th. Nebraska prisons are far exceeding capacity and director Scott Frakes announced he will certify an overcrowding emergency on July 1st because the state's prisons are currently at 151-percent.

KETV

Coronavirus is bringing a new wave of disruptions in Nebraska.  The Nebraska Department of Corrections is suspending visits, while federal court activity for both civil and criminal cases in the state is being postponed.  The National Weather Service has canceled a statewide tornado drill on March 25th.  The Cornhuskers spring football and volleyball games have been canceled, and the Nebraska School Activities Association has announced the suspension of all practices, activities and competitions.  The Catholic dioceses of Omaha and Lincoln are suspending public Masses.

State officials say Nebraska's prisons released 45 inmates earlier than they should have because officials failed to apply disciplinary sanctions to their sentences that would have kept them behind bars longer. The Department of Correctional Services acknowledged Thursday that 187 prisoners should have lost so-called “good time" credit for violations of prison policy, but the sanctions weren't properly counted on their sentences. Of that group, 45 have already been released from prison and two of them have since committed low-level misdemeanors when they should have been incarcerated.

State authorities say yet another state prison employee has been arrested on suspicion of unauthorized communication with a prisoner, a felony under state law. A news release from the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services says 26-year-old Ashlee Yeackley, a food service worker at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln, was arrested Wednesday and taken to the Lancaster County Jail. Officials say Yeackley has been employed by the department since February 2019. The release says she'll be suspended from her job.

Corrections Department Director calls for new prison

Feb 19, 2020

Nebraska's corrections department director is calling on lawmakers to consider building a new prison.  Corrections Director Scott Frakes unveiled a plan yesterday to issue a request for information to identify options for the "construction, maintenance and creation of new prison capacity." Frakes says the request for information is a first step for several options including a public-private partnership in building a new facility.  Nebraska's prisons are dealing with inmate capacity and under-staffing issues.

 

Nebraska's pardons board has refused to pardon the murder conviction of the ex-girlfriend of Charles Starkweather, the infamous killer who went on a rampage in the 1950s. The board voted 3-0 Tuesday to deny the application from Caril Ann Clair, even though some relatives of Starkweather's victims lobbied in her favor. Clair. who was known as Caril Ann Fugate at the time, currently lives in Michigan. She was 14 when Starkweather, then 19, went on a killing spree in 1957-58 that left 11 people dead in Nebraska and Wyoming, including her mother, stepfather and baby half-sister.

A key state lawmaker says Nebraska’s severe prison overcrowding is only going to get worse over the next few years if state officials don’t take more aggressive steps to address the problem. Sen. Steve Lathrop, of Omaha, told a legislative committee Wednesday that the state’s prison population is projected to grow so fast that it will outpace the new beds that corrections officials are adding to try to ease pressure on their facilities. Lathrop made the remarks as he proposed a new, $52 million Omaha community corrections facility to members of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee.

A state lawmaker concerned about overcrowding in Nebraska prisons plans to propose building a new 300-bed work release facility in Omaha. State Sen. Steve Lathrop says he'll introduce a bill calling on the state to begin planning a new community corrections facility. Building the new facility could cost more than $40 million, but Lathrop's bill would only require the state to plan for the new work release facility. Nebraska's prisons currently hold 2,006 more inmates than their design capacity of 3,535 inmates. The state's prison system is at 157% of its design capacity.

Inmates at a Lincoln prison damaged a housing unit during a Christmas Eve disturbance after staff confiscated food and homemade alcohol. A Nebraska Department of Corrections spokeswoman said about 14 inmates at the Diagnostic and Evaluation Center broke furniture, cracked a window and disabled surveillance cameras. The Lincoln Journal Star reports that the incident began about 7 p.m. Tuesday and that some inmates returned to their cells as directed at the start. Prison staff locked down the facility and called in an emergency response team to resolve the incident.

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Another Nebraska prison is switching to 12-hour shifts for correctional employees in response to persistent staffing shortages.

The Tecumseh State Correctional Institution in southeast Nebraska will follow in the steps of the Nebraska State Penitentiary, where administrators made a similar change early this year. Director Scott Frakes said Monday that the change will help ensure reliable staffing numbers to run the prison safely.

The Nebraska corrections department is asking more than 600 inmates to step forward if they’d like to serve out the remainder of their sentences in their home states.

Organization Seeks More Prison Beds

Nov 13, 2019

Another law enforcement organization is calling on Nebraska to add more prison beds.  The Nebraska State Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police issued a letter yesterday that noted that more beds are needed at state prisons after corrections officials noted that facilities are near capacity.  The organization claims the effort to make some state laws into misdemeanors has forced county jails to add more space for offenders.

 

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Authorities are making an aggressive new push to remove contraband from Nebraska's largest prisons, but the task is more difficult than it seems.

Nebraska's crackdown is the latest example of states trying to clamp down on drugs, weapons and cellphones that have become prevalent in prisons.

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Officers found more weapons and drugs during a second search of the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln.

The Nebraska Correctional Services Department deployed K-9 teams after a lockdown was imposed at 4:30 a.m. Wednesday. Department Director Scott Frakes says nearly 40 officers from other law enforcement agencies joined department employees in the hunt for contraband.

State Prison Locked Down Again

Sep 19, 2019

(Lincoln, NE)  --  The Nebraska State Penitentiary is placed on lockdown during a raid for contraband.  The prison went on lockdown early yesterday morning, and investigators began their raid 90 minutes later.  More than 100 investigators searched for contraband including weapons, drugs, cellphones and alcohol.  Nebraska corrections officials say the raid had been planned for several weeks. 

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A new report says parts of a Nebraska prison weren't searched during a recent lockdown that was billed as a safety precaution to locate contraband.

Nebraska Inspector General for Correctional Services Doug Koebernick said in his annual report Monday that the issue came to his attention Sept. 6, when the Nebraska State Penitentiary was under a lockdown.

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A lockdown and search at Nebraska's largest prison has unearthed a variety of drugs, homemade weapons and other contraband.

Prison officials revealed Wednesday some of the items found during last week's lockdown at the Nebraska State Penitentiary.

The list includes the synthetic drug K2, which officials say has helped fuel a recent increase in assaults. Prison staff members also discovered makeshift tattoo machines, syringes, lighters and a cellphone hidden inside a tablet computer.

State Penitentiary Lockdown Eased

Sep 10, 2019

(Lincoln, NE)  --  The Nebraska State Penitentiary is moving away from a lockdown.  State Department of Correctional Services director Scott Frakes said inmates were given a little more freedom after the status change on Friday, but that outside visits were being canceled at least through the weekend.  Frakes said the penitentiary went into lockdown last Wednesday so that organized and intensive searches could be conducted.  He said no single incident spurred the action, but that there were a number of recent assaults and contraband discoveries that prompted it.

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Searches for weapons, drugs and other contraband have been undertaken during a lockdown at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln.

Officials say the lockdown that began Wednesday morning was needed because of the increase in assaults on staffers and among inmates, as well as an increase in the use of synthetic marijuana, or K2.

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A Nebraska prisons watchdog has issued a warning about "alarming" conditions driven by staffing shortages and record overtime at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln.

Doug Koebernick, the inspector general for corrections, issued the report to lawmakers this week. Koebernick also identified contraband cellphones and the use of synthetic drugs as major security concerns.

Nebraska's prison system has faced a litany of problems in recent years, including persistent overcrowding and struggles to hire and retain employees.

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