The Nebraska corrections director says he plans to continue double-bunking inmates in solitary confinement despite the inspector general's call to suspend the practice out of concern it increases dangers for inmates and staff.
Inspector General of Corrections Doug Koebernick recently called on the state to suspend and review the practice of bunking two inmates in a solitary cell. He cited studies concluding that placing two troubled inmates in a small cell designed for one increases danger and tension for inmates and staff.
But State Corrections Director Scott Frakes rejected suspending the practice. He said the department has reviewed the practice and will continue it, along with screening cellmates for compatibility. Nebraska has double-bunked cells in solitary confinement at four state prisons because of overcrowding
Frakes acknowledged that no academic studies exist to prove that double-bunking is a positive practice that improves behavior, but said his 35 years of corrections experience shows it can be safe.
Solitary confinement, or "restrictive housing," is where disruptive and dangerous inmates are sent when they violate rules or are a threat to themselves or others. Double-bunking is seen nationally as a risky decision, though several states and county jails do it to deal with overcrowding and slim budgets.
Koebernick's call was in response to the April slaying of inmate Terry Berry Jr. in a double-bunked cell at Tecumseh State Correctional Institution. Frakes blamed Berry's death solely on his cellmate, Patrick Schroeder, who was serving life in prison for murder.
"Mr. Schroeder had multiple avenues with which to address any concerns about his living situation and chose, instead, to kill Mr. Berry," Frakes said.
Koebernick's report details interviews he had with Tecumseh staff who said Schroeder did not want to have a cellmate and that staff was concerned about the two inmates being placed together though they did not expect a murder to take place.
After Berry’s death, a Tecumseh staff member filed an incident report that detailed her concerns about the placement of the two inmates in the same cell. She wrote she was made aware in the early afternoon of April 10 that Berry was being placed in the cell with Schroeder.
She described Schroeder as “an inmate known for his temper.” She wrote that when she heard the information she felt it was not the best idea, since Berry was known to be “very talkative and bothersome,” and an inmate in for life, with a temper, would not want someone like Berry in his cell.
She said she called a lieutenant’s office and spoke to a staff member and was told there wasn’t much that could be done unless she called the person responsible for making the decision at their home. She also wrote that she talked to two other staff members about her concerns. Only one confirmed their conversation took place, Koebernick said.