ACLU To State:  Drop New Prison Plans

LINCOLN, Neb. (September 15, 2021) – The Nebraska Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is urging the Governor and the Legislature to scrap plans for a new prison.  The facility has been under discussion as a way to respond to the State’s prison overcrowding problem, and funds for planning the new facility were appropriated by the last session of the Legislature.

According to the ACLU, a new report from the Office of Inspector General of the Nebraska Correctional System says an understaffing crisis in Nebraska’s prison system has grown “alarmingly worse,” threatening the health and security of people in the facilities and undermining the system’s overall mission. The same report, according to the organization, includes evidence of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (NDCS) ignoring recommendations and state law requirements that may have helped alleviate the challenges.

ACLU of Nebraska Executive Director Danielle Conrad said “the report is another point of evidence that the system is in crisis and that construction of a new prison would only increase problems.”

“A lack of leadership got us here and now we’re seeing the human cost of cascading failure after failure,” Conrad said. “We are not adequately staffing the prisons we already have and Nebraskans should be alarmed that the situation has grown so dire that there is now a serious recommendation to call in the National Guard. The imperative is clear. Gov. Ricketts must drop his misguided demands for a new $230 million prison and encourage state senators to make smart justice reform their first and most pressing focus in the 2022 legislative session. It’s time for historic action to ensure adequate staffing, diversion, rehabilitation and reentry.”

Among the concerns the ACLU outlined in the report:

  • NDCS is “grappling with a mass exodus” and its leadership and the State of Nebraska have “passed up on efforts” to address the challenge.
  • NDCS has not published an annual strategic plan since 2018, a state law requirement.
  • NDCS has not published updates on the work of the restrictive housing work group, another state law requirement.
  • There appears to be no assessment of whether the department’s $15,000 hiring bonuses are working.
  • As construction nears completion on a major expansion project in Lincoln, there has been no detailed plan for how it will be adequately staffed.
  • An overcrowding emergency persists, though projections point to improvement by 2022 if the number of people entering our prisons holds steady. This is due to ongoing construction.

The report was issued just before today’s Nebraska Legislature Judiciary Committee listening session on prison workplace conditions and the staffing crisis.

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