The Nebraska Department of Correctional Services said search teams are trying to locate and identify the source of homemade weapons after two staff members were hurt over the last three days.

An inmate in Tecumseh used a homemade weapon to cut a Corrections staff member's hand Sunday. The staff member, who was retrieving an item from a port in a cell door at the time of the assault, received stitches.

And on Friday, five inmates in separate restrictive housing cells started small fires in their cells. One staff member who responded to the disturbance was cut on the nose, also with a homemade weapon. 

Corrections Director Scott Frakes said Monday that search teams were looking for weapons.

“Each of the individuals involved in the incident on Friday and the one involved Sunday were in restrictive housing due to the serious risk they present to the safety and security of the facility, our team members and other incarcerated individuals," Frakes said. "They remain in the appropriate placement given their behavior.”

All incidents will be investigated, he said, with findings provided to the Johnson County attorney to decide whether criminal prosecution is warranted. The department's disciplinary process will be used with sanctions, such as loss of good time, applied according to the rules and regulations, he said. 

The Tecumseh prison has had particular problems with assaults, disturbances, inmate deaths and staff shortages since early 2015. 

As of last week, at least 110 positions were vacant at the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution, according to Nebraska Inspector General for Corrections Doug Koebernick.

Eight months ago, after the March 2 disturbance in which two Tecumseh inmates were killed by other inmates, the department contacted the National Institute of Corrections and asked experts there to conduct a critical incident review. The institute's consultants visited Tecumseh the week of March 20 and submitted a report to Frakes in May. 

In his most recent annual report, issued in September, Koebernick referred back to the consultants' report, which was shared with the media.  

At that time, the consultants found Tecumseh was bordering on a crisis condition in which staff and inmates both expressed concerns about safety and control of the facility.

They found an increase during the previous year in assaults, reported drug or intoxicant abuse, serious offenses and less serious offenses. And they believed the data was “indicative of inmate management and control problems that would easily support the staff's perception concerns.”

Along with staff shortages were the problems associated with staff turnover, including that 20 percent of all positions were staffed by workers with less than one year of experience and over half of the staff had between one and five years of experience.

Along with that was a significant racial demographic disparity between staff and inmates. 

At that time, the department created what it called a closed management unit, to operate with more security and less out-of-cell time, and programs and incentives to lower inmate's risky behavior. It also added handcuffs and meal ports to cell doors and replaced porcelain sinks and toilets with stainless steel fixtures. 

The consultants advised establishing an agency grievance administrator by July and new technology for grievances. Lincoln Sen. Kate Bolz said last week the department has not yet hired a grievance officer.

At a hearing with Frakes in March, Bolz had asked him what the priorities of the department were after the March 2 disturbance. Frakes responded that it was a priority to have a much more robust and valid grievance system, she said. 

"I thought that was worth noting, that that was their No. 1 priority and it hasn't yet been moved forward," she said last week. 

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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