Corrections Director Scott Frakes has beefed up measures to make the state’s prisons safer for staff and inmates.

Frakes said in a news release Friday the prisons have increased searches, removed items that could be used to assault staff or destroy property, added staff equipment and increased the amount and frequency of programming for inmates.

The Department of Correctional Services is a component of Nebraska’s law enforcement team that protects public safety. Even if corrections officers are less visible, they deserve the same support as police officers, firefighters and the military, he said. 

“Courage, loyalty, dedication and a call to service are the qualities you find in people who do dangerous and difficult work,” Frakes said. 

A segment of offenders, however small, will continue to present challenges, Frakes said.

Last year, about 224 staff assaults by inmates were recorded at the prisons, with 13 resulting in serious injuries. 

More than 3,400 of the inmates in Nebraska prisons have a documented history of violence, Frakes said.

Within the past 27 months, five inmates have been killed, reportedly by other inmates, at the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution. 

A recent assault at the Tecumseh prison occurred in restrictive housing, the most secure area of the facility. An inmate was in restraints with two staff members present and he still managed to hurt people, Frakes said.

“Inmates, such as the one in this case, who have the intent to hurt others, will always be working to find a way to do so,” Frakes said. “We are dealing with an inmate population that is comfortable using violence to get to what they want."

To address the challenges, the department is always looking to improve training and security while holding inmates accountable for their actions, he said.

The prisons have taken these actions:

* Increased searches of housing units, cells, common areas, kitchen workers and industries workers to prevent drug-induced violence and access to weapons.

* Removed padlocks from inmate property, potentially flammable items from inmate canteens, and batteries from restrictive housing.

* Equipped staff with radios with ear buds, body cameras in certain areas, and increased the potency of pepper spray staff members carry for self-protection and that they use to end an assault or other dangerous behavior.

* Increased the amount and frequency of programming for inmates, to produce changes in criminal thinking and behavior. Clinical treatment, such as the Violence Reduction Program, Moral Reconation Therapy and Thinking for a Change target violence and criminal thinking.

* Increased efforts with a centralized intelligence team to identify the most violent and disruptive inmates, as well as the people that direct others to commit violence.

* Developed a close management unit at Tecumseh and the penitentiary to better manage the high-risk population. These units provide a secure transition for inmates engaging in or orchestrating violence.

* Posted notices throughout prison housing units that it is a felony to assault a staff member. The agency investigates all staff assaults and refers them to a local county attorney for prosecution, Frakes said. Violent behavior can also lead to a loss of good time. Inmates committing violent acts are moved from general population to restrictive housing.

“Our team members show up every day to keep dangerous people out of our communities and to ensure inmates completing their sentences are prepared to re-enter society,” Frakes said. “Empowering our team with the resources they need to do their job and providing for their safety on the job is my top priority.”

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

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.

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

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