Nebraska State Penitentiary

Nebraska State Penitentiary

Journal Star file photo

A contraband search over four days at the Nebraska State Penitentiary turned up what the Department of Correctional Services is calling a significant amount of drugs, a cellphone and three weapons in a cell.

The search came after Director Scott Frakes called for an intense and organized look at several specific areas of the prisons, said spokeswoman Dawn-Renee Smith.

Searches have been stepped up in general since an inmate who died after being found unresponsive in his cell in late May tested positive at the hospital for methamphetamine and Ecstasy. Daelan Lamere, 22, died June 6 at Bryan West Campus in Lincoln.

In this search, 60 staff members searched all shop areas and all employees coming into the penitentiary on Aug. 29 through Sept. 1. During the area searches they found homemade weapons and prison-brewed alcohol, Smith said.

Smith would not say what drugs were found because a criminal investigation is being conducted, but she said the quantities were large enough to indicate they were not for one person, but would be sold to others.

"These types of searches allow us to identify potential and real security threats and identify them quickly," Smith said.

All windows and door frames were checked in housing units. The drugs that were recovered from the cell were found hidden inside the steel casing of a window, she said.

"Contraband in prison is dangerous and puts staff and inmates at risk," Frakes said.

The prisons' centralized intelligence team allows the staff to find and respond better to information about contraband and other security concerns, he said.

Frakes said the staff members involved in the searches did great work.

The department will continue to look at its security practices and enhance its policies and practices to keep drugs, alcohol and cellphones out of the prisons, Smith said.

"Large-scale staff searches are inconvenient but necessary," she said. "Staff members appreciate that we are looking for the contraband and working to stop it from coming in."

Inspector General for Corrections Doug Koebernick has said the department opened criminal investigations on eight cases involving staff members and seven involving visitors in 2016. Through July of this year, it had opened no cases involving staff and four involving visitors.

Prison staff, when surveyed by Koebernick this summer, had their own suggestions on controlling contraband, including that the department use more drug dogs, search staff more often as they enter the prisons and increase prosecution or discipline for those caught bringing in illegal drugs or other contraband.

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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