Two Nebraska inmates sued the state's new corrections director Friday, alleging overcrowding at Tecumseh State Correctional Institution is resulting in the intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Dukhan Mumin and Khalid Muhammad said Department of Correctional Services Director Michael Kenney and more than three dozen others, including Gov. Dave Heineman, have breached their duty by allowing such conditions to exist and failing to take steps to alleviate them.
The men want $20 million each for what they call intentional infliction of emotional distress and another $60 million each for punitive damages.
Mumin and Muhammad both are habitual criminals serving at least 10 years inside prison walls for their most recent crimes.
In the civil lawsuit filed in Lancaster County District Court, they say that because of overcrowding they get a fifth of the 50 square feet of living space listed in guidelines by the American Correctional Association, the prison's ventilation system in grossly inadequate to prevent mold and other contaminants, and it often takes several minutes for staff to respond to medical emergencies.
"If a prisoner is having a heart attack or is being attacked by his cellmate, the response time would cost him his life," they wrote.
Nebraska’s nine prisons have room for 3,175 inmates and hold 4,782 -- about 151 percent of capacity. That's projected to hit 188 percent by 2020 unless changes are made. Reaching 140 percent of capacity triggers a report to the governor, who can declare an emergency; Heineman has not done so. That level also can be a benchmark federal judges use to order construction of new cells.
Efforts to address the state's prison system are underway.
Last month, Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha, who chairs the Legislature's Judiciary Committee and is spearheading reform, said the Council of State Governments, which has been the national leader in reforming prison systems, will send a team here at no cost to Nebraska.
Corrections Department spokeswoman Dawn-Renee Smith, who also is named in the lawsuit, said she could not comment on pending litigation.
In addition to overcrowding, Mumin and Muhammad raise a number of other issues.
Among them, they allege there is a racial disparity in the number of black and Hispanic prisoners held in segregation, and they say Tecumseh's law library is inadequate, with just one qualified legal aide to help all the prisoners there.
As of Oct. 31, the Tecumseh prison held 970 inmates, 101 percent of capacity.
In the lawsuit, Mumin and Muhammad blame a lack of programming and treatment for producing Nikko Jenkins, who stands accused in Douglas County of killing four people within days of his release. And they point to flaws in the prison classification system, which placed them at the Tecumseh prison even though they are nonviolent offenders.
Mumin, 58, was sentenced in August to 10 to 20 years on a Lancaster County cocaine charge. Muhammad, 46, has been in prison since 2007 on a 10- to 40-year stretch for a Sarpy County theft.