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Report: Nebraska’s Ongoing Prison Staffing Crisis Expands

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Tuesday, July 6, 2021   

LINCOLN, Neb. -- A new report from the Office of Inspector General of Corrections is raising concerns about ongoing and expanding staffing emergencies at Nebraska's state prisons.

Danielle Conrad, executive director of the ACLU of Nebraska, said the report underscores legislators were right to hit the pause button on a proposal to build a new $230 million prison.

She argued Nebraska leaders have no plan for staffing the existing state prison system, let alone a new facility that would amount to one of the largest state earmarks in taxpayer history.

"That staffing crisis has been expanded to other facilities," Conrad explained. "Gov. (Pete) Ricketts and (Department of Correctional Services) director (Scott) Frakes have never answered the questions about how to staff this massive new prison, which wouldn't even solve our overcrowding problems."

Proponents of building a new facility say it will create jobs and begin to relieve overcrowding.

But Conrad pointed to effective alternatives she contended are far less expensive and address root causes, including mental-health and addiction issues. She asserted drug, veterans and other diversion courts, alongside treatment and investments in job training and education, are a far more effective way to shrink prison populations and keep communities safe.

Nebraska's state prison system is the second most overcrowded in the nation, and lawmakers have called for studies into potential solutions.

Conrad suggested the state has an opportunity to turn away from both the "tough on crime" and "war on drugs" mentality, and adopt smart justice approaches. She pointed to recent polling, which showed across party lines, Nebraska voters do not want a massive new prison.

"They want smart reforms, they want smart investments," Conrad observed. "They want us to build up access to treatment and mental health and problem-solving and diversion courts. They don't want us to double down on mass incarceration and racial injustice."

Conrad added she encouraged Nebraskans to weigh in with their state senators. In their last session, lawmakers approved a prison funding compromise, appropriating money for the design of a potential new prison, but not allowing construction to move forward without further legislative action.

Disclosure: ACLU of Nebraska contributes to our fund for reporting on Civil Rights, Criminal Justice, Immigrant Issues, and Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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