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Broken Nebraska prisons discussed by lawmakers

Posted at 6:22 PM, Aug 31, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-31 19:28:40-04
Treading water.
 
That’s how the head of Nebraska prisons describes the situation several of his 10 facilities are in.
 
Violence in Nebraska prisons includes three attacks on guards in state facilities in August alone.
 
Critics say corrections workers are at risk because prisons are severely understaffed.
 
Lawmakers held a special hearing Wednesday in Lincoln to find how and why there are so many problems.
 
There are 145 job vacancies across the state’s 10 prisons. 
 
While that’s a main concern among lawmakers, it’s one of many problems facing state prisons.
 
It's considered a red flag for a prison system to have 15 percent staff turnover.
 
In Nebraska, turnover is about one third.
 
Among other problems?
 
Gang violence, riots and general inmate disobedience.
 
"We could be overstaffed and it would have nothing to do with what happened last week or some of the other staff assaults we've had,” said Nebraska Director of Corrections Scott Frakes referring to an attack on nine prison staff in Lincoln. 
 
Wednesday’s hearing revealed that Frakes planned to cut additional staffing needs by nearly 100.
 
That’s concerning to several lawmakers.
 
"It's very concerning in light of what we heard today with the difference between the draft report and the final staffing analysis report,” said Senator Heath Mellow of Omaha. “You add that on top of the 145 vacant positions and you start to see why we're in crises mode when it comes to staffing the department of corrections.”
 
Frakes addressed concerns, saying he was cutting staff from a draft plan for practicality – such as using two people instead of five to drive an escort van, for example.  
 
High turnover combined with staff shortages and violent inmates back prison officials against the wall.
 
"I have to be careful about what I say in these settings because, my population, if they don't watch the hearings, they read the press and they pay attention,” Frakes said. “I talked earlier about security threat groups, it's a very real issue. They operate under a very different set of rules than you and I.”
 
Some of the measures Frakes talked about was giving certain staff bonuses, adding more programs to keep inmates out of trouble and possibility raising wages to attract workers.