Nebraska Department Looks Into New Prison Projects


Security forces in riot gear surround a courtyard behind razor wire at the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution in Tecumseh on March 2, 2017. The Nebraska Department of Correctional Services is exploring the option of building a new prison between Omaha and Lincoln to ease overcrowding. (AP)
By 
Scott Stewart
The Daily Record

The Nebraska Department of Correctional Services is considering building a new prison to ease chronic overcrowding that’s expected to continue worsening.

A request for information will be issued soon to identify possible options for constructing and maintaining new prison capacity, NDCS Director Scott R. Frakes said in a statement last Tuesday.

“In particular, this will allow for the exploration of a public-private partnership that could provide certain benefits to the state including an accelerated timeline to build and a long term lease agreement, with the potential to own any new facility at the end,” Frakes said in the statement.

The state will look at medium to maximum custody options in a location with the population to support required staffing. A 1,600 bed facility between Omaha and Lincoln is being considered.

The proposal drew a rebuke from the ALCU of Nebraska, in particular the suggestion that a public-private partnership would be used for the project.

Danielle Conrad, executive director of ACLU of Nebraska, said building any new prison – including one potentially built by and leased from a private entity – would only add to problems while costing taxpayers millions.

“I cannot understand why the department would want to embrace a business model that depends on locking up more and more of our Nebraska neighbors,” Conrad said in a statement.

“Nebraska is struggling to adequately staff the facilities we already have and partnering with a private company only opens the door for increased human rights violations that we’ve seen in other states. We should be focused on diverting people out of our prison system and reuniting families instead of building new beds in a never-ending attempt to keep up with our broken system of mass incarceration.”

Frakes said build-lease partnerships have been used in other states to cover the immediate construction costs. He said he did not have any projections about the cost of a construction project.

“The RFI process does not obligate us in any way,” Frakes said. “Ultimately, once all options are weighed, we will have those discussions with the legislature to help make an informed choice that best meets the needs of the state and best serves its citizens.”

A report by the JFA Institute projects the department’s male population will increase by an average of 2.5% annually over the next decade, with the female population growing by 2% annually.

“This report now gives us a more solid projection of growth,” Frakes said. “It’s a tool that will help inform responses to the RFI, with best estimates of how to meet Nebraska’s current and future needs.”

The state has a deadline of July 1 to reduce its prison population or declare an overcrowding emergency. The ACLU of Nebraska said Nebraska’s prison system is the second most crowded in the nation, with the system at nearly 160% of its design capacity – with an average of almost 5,600 people incarcerated daily.

The ACLU is currently seeking a class certification for a lawsuit that alleges a lack of basic health care and disability accommodations for Nebraska prisoners.

Additionally, lawmakers questioned Frakes earlier this month about concerns that the state’s inmate population will exceed efforts to add more space.

As existing NDCS facilities reach the end of their life spans, Frakes said any new construction could eventually be expanded.

 “It’s not just a matter of predicting future needs, but it is about building space that provides the flexibility to accommodate needs as they evolve,” he said.

A more modern facility, with new technology and efficiencies, could reduce staffing needs compared to older prisons, he added.

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