Assaults on staff, particularly at three of Nebraska's larger men's prisons, have been a continuing concern over the past several years.
But Nebraska Inspector General for Corrections Doug Koebernick is questioning whether there may be more assaults occurring than are showing up in the Department of Correctional Services' data information system.
He reported in September that inmate-on-staff assaults at Tecumseh State Correctional Institution, Lincoln Correctional Center and the Nebraska State Penitentiary, had increased substantially between 2014 and 2016.
In 2016, the department reported 121 prison assaults to staff without serious injury and 13 that were considered serious injuries. That was up from 54 assaults without serious injury in 2014 and five with serious injuries.
But Koebernick said he was cautious about including 2017 assault data in his report until he gained a better understanding of how assaults were being reported and tabulated by the department, and whether the numbers could be compared year to year.
He decided recently to take a closer look at the three assaults reported in June in the department's information system, he said. They included one physical assault and two assaults in which fluids were thrown on staff members, all without serious injuries.
A serious injury, as defined by the department, requires urgent and immediate medical treatment and restricts the person’s usual activity. Medical treatment might include stitches, use of Dermabond or other topical skin adhesive, setting of broken bones, treatment of concussion, or loss of consciousness.
Koebernick found on his narrow inspection of assaults at the Nebraska State Penitentiary that even though only three assaults were reported by the department for the whole month of June, on June 1 and 3 alone six staff were transported to a hospital and three others were assaulted in some manner.
On June 1, a staff member and a caseworker who had been assaulted by an inmate were taken to a hospital in a state vehicle. On June 3, two sergeants and two corporals responding to a disturbance were taken to a hospital emergency room in state vehicles. A third corporal drove himself to an emergency room, and three other staff appeared to be injured but did not go to an emergency room.
"At this point I ended my review of the assault cases at the Nebraska State Penitentiary due to it appearing that the department's assault data in their information system did not match up to what had been reported to the (Office of Inspector General)," he said in a memorandum to the Legislature's Judiciary Committee and its justice system oversight committee.
In looking at the data, he told the senators, he also found a case that appeared to be a sexual assault, although no sexual assault was reported in the department's information system during May.
He has shared the information with the department, he said. He does not believe their difficulties in tracking and reporting data is intentional.
The department has faced many challenges because of a lack of needed resources that have not been provided during the past couple of decades, Koebernick said.
"Their technology and information systems have been impacted by past decisions," he said. That affects their ability in some cases to track and report accurate data.