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Hearing held in Lincoln to discuss prison-staffing crisis

Posted at 5:59 PM, Oct 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-25 19:11:44-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — State representatives want answers about why the prison system can't hire or keep corrections guards. The Department of Corrections says they're on emergency staffing so guards have to work 12-hour shifts...and they're increasing hiring bonuses. Today, lawmakers wanted to know if bonuses are the solution.

A prison lockdown not necessarily for violence...major staffing issues are stopping inmates from being allowed visits, taking away recreation time and keeping them in cells about three hours longer a day at Nebraska's three largest prisons. The state penitentiary, Tecumseh and Lincoln Corrections Center.

Director Scott Frakes declared a staffing emergency since guards are quitting because they have to work a lot of overtime and the job demands are too much.

Today, he faced the State Judiciary Committee.

"Over the last seven months, NSP (Nebraska State Penitentiary) has experienced increased turnover losing 70 protective services staff," he said.

Vice President of the State Fraternal Order of Police Matt Barrall says enough is enough. He says state prison officers are paid $2.50 an hour less than officers at the Douglas and Sarpy County Jails. He adds, the safety of prison guards is being put at risk and they're being assaulted and targeted by prison gangs.

"Now they're required to bring in the National Guard because they just don't have enough correctional officers." Barrall says. "Tthis has been time and time again where they're slapping a band-aid on an arterial bleed."

Frakes says a $10,000 bonus is being offered to new hires but it will be spread out over three years.

Senator Ernie Chambers worries making inmates stay in their cells longer and taking away visits and recreation time could lead to more attacks on each other and staff.

"That would result in the type of pressure that would manifest itself into discipline problems," he says.

Frakes hopes to lift the emergency staffing declaration and get rid of the 12-hour shifts in less than six months.