Corrections Director Scott Frakes submitted an adjustment to his 2017-19 state budget request Wednesday, but he's not asking for additional funding. 

He's asking permission to spend money he has in his budget to hire more corporals and sergeants, and to reallocate funding for health workers.

The money would fund 21 corporals and eight sergeants, who would be divided among prisons based on a staffing analysis done by the department, and a review of the most current vacancy and turnover data and trends, Frakes said in a news release. 

Frakes said the 29 positions, along with a previously funded request for the full-time equivalent of 19 employees, is consistent with the original first-year staffing analysis request of an additional 48 FTE for 2017-18.

Frakes submitted the budget adjustment request on Wednesday. Gov. Pete Ricketts is expected to present budget adjustments for all state agencies to the Legislature in January.

Last year, when the state began its work on the 2017-19 budget, Frakes asked Ricketts and the Legislature for an increase of $15.3 million in state general funds and 164.5 Corrections positions for those two fiscal years.

When it came time for the Legislature to vote on the budget, Appropriations Committee members and several other senators, including Omaha Sen. Bob Krist, withdrew support for all of those requested positions and cut the funding request. 

Krist said at the time Frakes requested more staff when there were already 149 vacant positions. He wanted accountability, he said, for the money for those already funded positions, saying it was being diverted to overtime pay and per diems.

Earlier this month, a 23-year veteran staffer told the Legislature's Judiciary Committee that the erosion of the Corrections Department has worsened over the past 2-plus years. 

Brad Kreifels, a sergeant at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln, testified he has seen staff morale, and inmate and staff safety decline. Wages, mandatory overtime and a perceived lack of support for staff are major factors, he said. 

The Judiciary Committee hearing resulted from an interim study resolution (LR172) by Lincoln Sen. Anna Wishart concerning department recruitment and retention efforts. 

Frakes' new request would allow the department to draw from funding that previously paid for contract medical services at the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution. The contract with a medical provider ended in July and Corrections Department employees are now providing medical services at the Tecumseh prison.

To cover salaries of those employees, the funding must be reallocated as part of the budget request.

“Dr. Deol and his team have done an excellent job managing the transition of health services at (Tecumseh) from contract to in-house provision,” Frakes said. 

Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.

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State government reporter

JoAnne Young covers state government, including the Legislature and state agencies, and the people they serve.

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